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Organizing for social sustainability: governance through bureaucratization in meta-organizations

Author(s): Åsa Casula Vifell | Renita Thedvall

Journal: Sustainability : Science, Practice and Policy
ISSN 1548-7733

Volume: 8;
Issue: 1;
Start page: 50;
Date: 2012;
Original page

Keywords: sustainable development | globalization | standardization | organizations | food industry | bureaucracy | social conditions

The difficulties nation states face when attempting to use traditional legal means to cope with transnational phenomena such as environmental degradation, international labor conditions, and global trade have created an opportunity for the emergence of new types of regulations. These rules are often issued by organizations that produce voluntary measures such as standards and action plans to influence the behavior of individuals and institutions. These are in many cases meta-organizations that have other organizations rather than individuals as members. They are important links in the process of creating and diffusing dominant definitions in the “ideoscape” of influential policy concepts such as sustainable development. This article explores how two meta-organizations, Fairtrade International (FLO) and Organic Forum, shape the concepts of fair trade and organic food by providing ideas and content to the ideoscape of sustainable development. We argue that this process takes place by governance through bureaucratization in which fair trade and organic food become formalized, precisely defined, and made visible. This in turn determines how—or even if—the social dimension of sustainability can be made into policy. Furthermore, we find explanations in these processes as to why the social dimension of sustainability tends to be the most underdeveloped. We conclude that bureaucratization is also a form of politics, although not one that is as easily recognizable as an open power struggle.
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