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Strengthening private certification systems through public regulation: The case of sustainable public procurement

David D'Hollander (Leuven Centre for Global Governance Studies, University of Leuven, Leuven, Belgium)
Axel Marx (Leuven Centre for Global Governance Studies, University of Leuven, Leuven, Belgium)

Sustainability Accounting, Management and Policy Journal

ISSN: 2040-8021

Article publication date: 11 February 2014

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Abstract

Purpose

Private certification systems (PCS) have emerged as governance tools for sustainable development, regulating social and environmental standards through global supply chains. PCS are seen as essentially private and market-driven, but governments have engaged with them in various ways. There are also substantial differences in the institutional design of PCS with regard to the standard-setting process, ex-ante conformity assessment and ex-post verification procedures. Consequently, what determines the institutional design of PCS has attracted growing attention. This article argues that governments, through public regulation, influence the design of PCS, which in turn affects their effectiveness. The paper aims to discuss these issues.

Design/methodology/approach

First, a review of academic literature, policy and legal documents presents how PCS have become institutionalized in government policy, focusing on sustainable public procurement (SPP) regulation. Second, the authors explore the link between effectiveness and the institutional design of PCS by empirically assessing the variations between institutional parameters conducive to effectiveness. Data from the Ecolabel Index database were used to assess the presence or absence of four institutional design parameters related to the rule-making and monitoring mechanisms of PCS.

Findings

Public procurement regulations are important drivers influencing the institutional design of PCS. The buying power and market share of government spending is a potential tool for policy-makers not only to stimulate the adoption of PCS, but also for shaping their design and effectiveness. However, the impact of such policies is highly dependent upon the market-share of public procurement within a given sector. In addition to public procurement frameworks, other factors drive the institutional evolution of PCS.

Originality/value

The article connects two themes within the study of non-state market regulation; the growing interaction of governments with PCS, and the institutional variety and development of these systems.

Keywords

Acknowledgements

The authors would like to thank Jo Versteven, Dieter Vander Beke, Katrin Goyvaerts and Stephanie Bijlmakers for providing information; and Colleen Carroll and three anonymous reviewers of Sustainability Accounting, Management and Policy Journal for excellent comments on a previous draft of the paper. The authors acknowledge and thank Big Room Inc. for giving access to the Ecolabel Index database. The authors would like to thank PULSE, the Belgian Research Forum on Public Support for Development Cooperation, for providing financial support for this research. The authors are listed alphabetically.

Citation

D'Hollander, D. and Marx, A. (2014), "Strengthening private certification systems through public regulation: The case of sustainable public procurement", Sustainability Accounting, Management and Policy Journal, Vol. 5 No. 1, pp. 2-21. https://doi.org/10.1108/SAMPJ-04-2013-0016

Publisher

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Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2014, Emerald Group Publishing Limited