SOAS University of London

Review of certification schemes shows farmers’ household income and workers’ wages not higher with certification

4 July 2017

A two-year study on the effects of certification schemes by SOAS University of London scholars has found the average household income and asset ownership of farmers do not increase with certification, despite product prices and certified sales income being on average higher.

Certification schemes (also known as standards systems) set and monitor voluntary standards to make agricultural production socially sustainable and agricultural trade fairer for producers and workers. The review covered a wide range of standards systems including Fairtrade, Utz-Rainforest Alliance, GlobalG.A.P and other schemes.

Review of certification schemes

The study, which carried out a quantitative synthesis of impact evaluations, also found that in relation to labour standards workers’ wages are not higher with certification.

Led by Dr Carlos Oya, Reader in the Political Economy of Development at SOAS, the systematic review of the evidence, funded by the international grant-making NGO 3ie, focused on agricultural commodity production in low - and middle-income countries.

Dr Oya said: “Certification schemes could consider the difficulties of affecting long-term socio-economic outcomes such as household income and general wellbeing and revise claims and standards to focus on what is realistically achievable with their interventions.”

The results of this systematic review are based on 43 quantitative studies on effects of certification on socio-economic outcomes and 136 qualitative studies on the barriers, enablers and key contextual factors affecting the causal links between certification interventions and outcomes. This study used statistical meta-analysis for the quantitative impact evaluations and a meta-ethnographic approach to review qualitative evidence.

The synthesis of qualitative research shed light on a wide range of contextual factors, which make the effects of certification dissipate as we move along the causal chain from more immediate outcomes to wider socio-economic impacts. Context matters in terms of where production takes place, how certified production is organised, the particularities of different supply chains, and the way producers and workers are integrated (or not) in the chain of certified products and their associated interventions.

The study was conducted by SOAS-based Research Officer Florian Schaefer, systematic review specialists Dafni Skalidou, Catherine McCosker and Laurenz Langer as well as colleagues from the EPPI centre at IOE. SOAS scholar Dr Deborah Johnston, Pro Director (Learning and Teaching), also provided inputs in the initial stages of the project.

The findings were recently discussed at a 3ie-LIDC event, ‘Do agricultural certification schemes benefit producers and workers in developing countries’.