Center for Global, International and Regional Studies
Paper or Plastic? The Privatization of Global Forestry Regulation
- Author(s): Lipschutz, Ronnie
- et al.
In 1992, representatives of 180 of the world’s nations met in Rio de Janeiro at the UN Conference on Environment and Development. Among the submissions debated and considered at the “Earth Summit,” as it was called, was one addressing sustainable forestry, with the unwieldy title "Non-legally binding authoritative statement of principles for a global consensus on the management, conservation and sustainable development of all types of forests" Opposition to the Forest Principles was much broader than support for them, and they crashed and burned. Over the intervening years, there have been repeated efforts to launch an International Forest Convention; although UN-sponsored panels, commissions, and forums on forests have worked continuously on the matter since 1995, these efforts have, so far, not been consummated in either an agreement or an organization. The absence of a global forestry convention does not mean the absence of “international” forestry regulations, although these, for the most part, have their origins in long-standing national legal and regulatory systems. One result of the apparent international impasse has been the growing privatization of global forestry regulation. There is nothing new about private law, either domestic or international. But whereas private law was historically constituted by contract among signatories, and usually legitimated through the legal structures of and enforcement by states, private forestry regulation rests on the hope for a form of “social contract” between producers and consumers. Such a contract promises consumer loyalty in return for corporate good behaviour. Indeed, in the face of an international failure to establish a global forestry convention, such “private” initiatives have proliferated, offering competing venues for those interested in fostering “sustainable forestry.” Can such private regulation ensure sustainable forestry? This paper attempts to answer the question. I begin with an examination of the reasons for privatization of forest regulation. In the second part of the chapter, I turn to a discussion of the many initiatives to implement semi-public or private forestry regulation, and the ways in which market-based methods lie at their core. Finally, I assess what I see as the fundamental flaws in such an approach, and argue that the sovereign consumer, when faced with contradictory messages about her purchases in the market and, possibly unmotivated by normative concerns, is not necessarily going to choose an environmentally-friendlier product.