May 6, 2003
Improving Governance Through Certification:
The Potential and Limitations
A vast array of consumer products, including diamonds, timber, coffee, and rugs, have been linked to devastating environmental and social impacts worldwide. National and international law, where it exists, has not succeeded in eliminating many of these harmful impacts. Certification has therefore emerged as a new tool that attempts to harness market forces to promote environmental protection, fair labor and trade practices, human rights, and conflict-resolution.
Moreover, certification systems also provide opportunities to promote “good governance” goals that advance transparent, democratic processes and reduce corruption. Some emerging systems aim to end armed conflict and promote governance directly, such as the international certification system for “conflict diamonds” under the Kimberley Process, which aims to sever the funding sources for rebel groups engaged in armed conflict in various African countries. There have been similar calls and efforts to develop systems to certify “conflict timber” based on this conflict diamond model. More often, however, the governance benefits are indirect by-products of the certification system. In other words, certification systems designed to promote environmental and social sustainability can also increase transparency, accountability, public participation in decision-making, legal use of natural resources, and investment in economic and human development.
On May 6, 2003, ELI held an informal roundtable discussion on “Improving Governance Through Certification: The Potential and Limitations.” Topics included, ELI’s research on the potential for certification systems to advance good governance and the limitations in achieving this potential, drawing on outcomes and experiences with existing certification systems. It also explored safeguards and recommendations to make certification more effective in achieving its unrealized potential.
Carl Bruch, Senior Attorney and Director of ELI’s Africa Program, moderated the discussion. Speakers included Pooja Seth Parikh, Staff Attorney and primary author of ELI’s research report, Harnessing Consumer Power: Using Certification Systems to Promote Good Governance, Susan Bass, Senior Attorney and Director of ELI’s Mining Center; and Kenneth Rosenbaum, an independent consultant and expert on forestry and governance issues.