Going beyond certificates: A systematic review of alternative trade arrangements in the global food sector

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This systematic review provides an overview of the various perspectives that investigate alternative trade arrangements in the global food sector. With child labor in cocoa production, health issues of plantation workers in the global south and unsustainable consumption patterns of consumers in the global north, trade arrangements in the global food sector remain on largely unsustainable pathways with vast consequences for a sustainable development. Alternative Trade arrangements have been proposed as one way to tackle the above-mentioned issues and have been increasingly investigated through the scientific literature. However, evidence about the impact of alternative trade arrangements on consumption in the global north or production in the global south is disputed. While there have been efforts to review the scientific literature, existing reviews have focused only on specific aspects (e.g. consumer perception or effectiveness of producer certification schemes). We therefore systematically reviewed 649 peer-reviewed publications that investigated food products and alternative trade arrangements to create a more comprehensive overview of the strand of literature, its epistemic similarities and differences. We found that the scientific literature is predominantly investigating the certified market, focusing on certification schemes and its implementations. Furthermore, we show that the literature is either focusing on producers or consumers and has a strong bias towards social aspects of sustainability. Using a quantitative word-based analysis, we identified three substantially different clusters: first, producer impact assessment, dominated by econometrics; second, contextual producer perspectives, emphasizing the political and social sphere through qualitative single case study analyses; and third consumers' attitudes and willingness to pay for ethical products, characterized by psychological and econometric measures. Based on our findings we propose three future directions for research in the field of alternative trade. First, scholars should put a stronger emphasis on going beyond the impact assessment of certification schemes and examine underlying aspects such as information asymmetries, smallholder empowerment and ethical consumption behavior. Second, interconnections between social and ecological factors needs further investigation as both factors have a strong influence on each other. Third, scholars should put a stronger focus on participatory approaches to gain a deeper understanding of root causes of unjust trade arrangements and enhance mutual understanding of scientific perceptions and realworld practices.

Original languageEnglish
Article number123208
JournalJournal of Cleaner Production
Number of pages11
Publication statusPublished - 10.12.2020