Project Summary

Year One

First Year: 

  • Faculty/ Research Assistants conduct reviews of grey literature
  • Faculty recruit graduate students
  • Scope out field sides
  • Finalize common field questions and set detailed research plans
  • The project website, blog, and other social media activities will be initiated


Year Two, Three and Four

Second, Third, and Fourth Years:

  • Faculty/ graduate students conduct field research in Southeast Asia as well as Canada; where buyers are demanding eco-certification, and other organizations are involved in Southeast asian resource management      
  • Faculty will also participate in industry workshops
  • Research will be presented at academic conferences and academic papers are published 
Year Five

Fifth Year:

  • A collective paper for a widely read science journal on "best practices" for market-oriented and non-state governance in Southeast Asia will be written at a team meeting in Canada
  • Students and faculty will present research at academic meetings, and an edited volume comprised of contributions from faculty and students will be completed and submitted to a volume comprised of contributions from faculty and students will be completed and submitted to a publisher
  • The edited volume will build on the collective paper and other books based on sectoral studies, case studies, and specific themes identified during the research will be submitted to publishers

Objectives  -  Overview  -  Context  -  Methodology of NDEG



In the context of growing publicity and concern about the conditions of production in Asia for products consumed in Canada, this research will take a broad approach to exploring how these conditions might be improved through regulation. More specifically, this research will investigate how the growth of market-oriented (Roth and Dressler 2012) or non-state (Cashore 2002) governance of resource development and extraction is remaking public authority in the forestry and fisheries sectors in mainland Southeast Asia. These sectors are defined to include plantations and aquaculture, and we will focus on environmental and social issues. New governance mechanisms such as eco-certification, payments for eco-system services (PES), and ‘illegality verification’ (Cashore and Stone 2012) will be studied in terms of their relations with existing governance practices, including traditional state regulation, and community-based forestry and fisheries. Our central concern is how new and old regulatory institutions interact—how they compete, cooperate, destabilize, or stabilize each other. We will also focus on the effects on rural livelihoods, worker conditions, and the democratic participation of small-scale fishers, forest users, farmers, and workers in remaking environmental and social governance. Our approach is geographical in that we will approach these questions by tracing the creation of new regulatory territories, and of new variegated territorial sovereignties, in which private, public, community-based, and hybrid actors claim often overlapping rule-making authority in defined territories. Finally, we trace how social and ecological information about compliance with standards and rules is produced, how this information travels, and who has access to this information (buyers, producers, local communities etc). Our four central research questions for this program of research are: 1. What are the diverse ways that non-state actors engage state resource agencies and community-based organizations, and how do state resource agencies and community organizations react to the involvement of non-state actors in resource management? 2. How do different governance arrangements produce territories, and how do these territorializations interact? Do market-based or community-based territorializations challenge the idea of exclusionary state sovereignty and produce an uneven territorial sovereignty? 3. What are the varied ways that emerging governance arrangements produce social and ecological knowledge? How does the demand for knowledge as specified in standards and regulations, facilitate the making of new expertise, and with what consequences? How does this knowledge travel, who has access, and with what consequences for democratic participation? 4. In what ways do the different governance arrangements impact on and address equity, poverty, and marginalization among the affected populations, including producers, workers, small-scale farmers and fishers, and less wealthy consumers? What can a comparison tell us about effective ways of making market-oriented governance more equitable?


As more of what Canadians buy and consume is sourced from Southeast Asia, we have become increasingly aware of the environmental and the social issues associated with resource extraction in this region.  This concern extends to both seafood (much of the shrimp, and most pangasius, tilapia and tuna sold in Canada comes from Southeast Asia), and forestry and plantation products such as palm oil and rubber. This research project assesses the effectiveness of different kinds of regulation aimed at improving sustainability and social justice in forestry and fisheries in mainland Southeast Asia.

Current research has shown that market-based efforts to address negative environmental and social impacts have only limited effects. Specific examples of these efforts include the actions taken by seafood buyers to ensure that the products they produce are free of the reputational risks associated with unfree labour, deforestation or degradation of marine ecologies. In the seafood sector, this has taken the form of commitments by large buyers such as Loblaws and Walmart to buy only seafood that has been certified as sustainable. Although there are benefits to these efforts, they are often limited to certifying 'sustainability enclaves', while problems in the broader fisheries and forestry sectors continue. The benefits are also limited in part because most forestry and fisheries products are not consumed in Europe and North America, but domestically, or in growing Asian markets where buyer requirements for sustainable or socially-just products is (currently) relatively limited. Definitions of sustainability in market-oriented regulation are also typically narrow, in part because they need to be visible for audits—they need to be observed, measured, documented, and assessed against sustainability standards. Basically, these and other market-based programs to promote sustainability are limited in important ways, and can even have effects opposite of their stated goals—they can exclude and displace smaller fishers and forest users through new sustainability rules that fail account for how they use forest, coastal, and aquatic resources.
At the same time, market-based programs do not emerge out of a vacuum, but are instead layered onto existing forms of regulation.  These include both state regulation, and community-based regulation, as well as myriad less formal kinds of authority.   Mainland Southeast Asia is a region where community-based fisheries and forestry are a significant presence.  Indeed, market-oriented regulation is only feasible to the degree that it is based on existing practices, especially in terms of defining who will be regulated, the key processes that will be regulated, the definition of regulatory territories, key objects of concern, and so on.
This research will therefore investigate the emerging relationships between private and public authority in forestry and fisheries, defined to include plantations and aquaculture. Eco-certification, payments for eco-system services, market-oriented conservation and related governance approaches are supplementing or displacing regulation by state forestry and fisheries departments, although reverse processes are also apparent in some sectors, for example, when governments take over the definition of what constitutes organic food. These non-state or market-oriented approaches also interact with management by local communities and residents. We will study these interactions by focusing on territorialization---the way that private, public and community-based actors claim often overlapping rule-making authority in territories that are defined by what is certified, or as community territory, and so on. In addition, we will trace the ways that these distinct approaches to governance create information through inspections, auditing and monitoring; we will then follow how this information moves; and who has access to it. Finally, we will investigate the effects on rural livelihoods, worker conditions and the democratic participation of small-scale fishers, forest users, farmers and workers. The research will be compare and explain differences in how five states in mainland Southeast Asia are responding to non-state or market-oriented governance. Graduate students will conduct detailed case study research in carefully-selected sites, while faculty researchers will mentor graduate student researchers, and contribute to the study of broader governance patterns.
The research will enhance the awareness of buyers, consumers, NGOs, development organizations and governments with respect to how their actions impact on environment and working conditions in Asia, and what kinds of governance schemes can be effective in addressing the key problems.

Methodology of NDEG

We choose mainland Southeast Asia (Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Yunnan province in China) based on Southeast Asia’s unique features, as well as the regional expertise of this team. Southeast Asia is an important source of raw materials for the global economy, including both seafood and forestry products. It is a key site for both industrial aquaculture (most of the shrimp, pangasius, and tilapia consumed in Canada is produced there), and smaller scale aquaculture produced for domestic consumption (carp, tilapia, sea bass etc). Mainland Southeast Asia is home to globally-significant biodiverse forests, but is also subject to the rapid spread of plantations and cash crops at the expense of forests. The coastal fisheries have been severely degraded, with recent estimates of the biomass of demersal species in the Gulf of Thailand to be as little as 8 percent of 1965 estimates (Stobutzki 2006). Many coastal areas have been subject to an aquaculture boom that is transforming forests and fisheries (Hall 2011). Finally, Southeast Asia is an important site for the study of equity, as millions of resident peoples in Southeast Asia rely on fisheries and forests for their livelihoods. Within Southeast Asia, we will pay particular attention to what have been called frontier zones (Hirsch 2009; Peluso and Lund 2011; Barney 2009): these include the uplands (Li 1999, Sikor et al. 2012) and the coastal zones. These zones are particularly important because (1) they include areas where state authority over land and resource management arrangements have often been tenuous, and where existing forms of governance are being dissolved and remade through intensified resource extraction and large-scale land acquisitions for plantations, industrial aquaculture, tourism and more; (2) they are highly valued for ecological conservation; and (3) they are home to vulnerable marginalized peoples who are often ethnic minorities to the national majorities. We choose to focus on forestry and fisheries, along with their respective farming forms (plantations and aquaculture) because of their importance in these frontier zones. We are not centering carbon forestry (REDD+ etc) in our program of research primarily because there are currently a large number of scholars working on this topic in Southeast Asia and elsewhere. This research, however, will provide useful comparisons for our work. Including all of mainland Southeast Asia, and the two distinct resource sectors, enables us to take a comparative approach, and thus to explain differences in how states respond to private claims to regulatory authority, how territorial sovereignty is being remade, and whether and how resident peoples and workers participate and benefit. Graduate students will conduct longer-term field-based research, while faculty will guide students and conduct sectoral analyses. A purposive sample representing a cross-section of residents – local resource users, key individuals, and organizations – will be targeted in each site (approximately 50 interviews per student). The field studies in production sites will be incorporated into multi-scalar analyses of the political economy of regulation in the broader sectors. Data collection will include document reviews, commodity chain analysis, semi-structured interviews and participatory observation (e.g., participatory mapping), as researchers trace and record the activities of the various agents including government officials, community networks, auditors, producers, processors, local traders, exporters, buyers, consultants, NGOs, wage workers and more. Researchers will analyze annual reports and other publications produced by actors involved in regulation; interview relevant staff (for example, in charge of supply management or running corporate social and environmental responsibility programs, or in government resource agencies), and analyze business literature and newletters (e.g., Intrafish, SeafoodSource News). Researchers will also participate in industry conferences to take advantage of opportunities to engage representatives of industries and NGOs. We will be guided in part by Campbell, Brosuis, and MacDonald’s (e.g., Brosuis and Campbell Detailed Description Peter Vandergeest 5 2010) method for conducting ethnographic research at conferences. Qualitative data analysis software such as NVivo will be used for interview data and the document analysis. More details on the activities of specific individual faculty can be found in the section on the research team. To ensure that the field studies are comparative, we draw from Vandergeest’s experience with organizing fourteen scholars to conduct restudies in Southeast Asia, recently published as an edited volume (Rigg and Vandergeest 2012). In that project the researchers committed to making their studies comparable by asking a common set of empirical questions, which were identified and agreed on during workshops. We will similarly organize meetings to agree on and periodically revisit common questions, so that the results of the various studies can be compared. This will enable the team to explain differences among these sites. The common questions will be based on the four research questions above, turned into empirical questions. For example: Research Question 1. Who initiated market-oriented regulation, and where were these actors located? What actors are involved, and who does the auditing or inspections to ensure compliance? How do private requirements or standards overlap with state regulations, and do these standards recognize state regulations or state jurisdiction? How do different state agencies view eco-certification initiated by non-state actors, and how do they respond? Research Question 2. Who are the clients that are certified or receive payment for ecosystem services—are they collective entities, government units, private operations and so on? What territories (e.g., demarcated forests, farms, fishing zones, buffer zones) are defined by the standards, and how are they defined? How do the territories created by market-oriented standards interact with state territorialization? How do they interact with regulations implemented by local governments, producer associations, or community groups? Research Question 3. What are the procedures used by different regulatory agents (private, government, hybrid) to produce information about rule and standard compliance? What specific expertise (educational degrees etc) are mandated by the standards and procedures for producing information? How does information circulate, who has access to this information, and how is it used? What information is available for public access? Who are the experts and consultants who work with buyers, producers, and/or help clients comply with standards or other requirements? Research Question 4. What prevents small-scale resource users or farmers from accessing markets for certified products? If small-scale resource users are included, what is required of them, and what kinds of benefits do they obtain? Are there conflicts between the requirements of market-oriented regulation on one hand, and the ecological and social values of small-scale resource users on the other hand? Who are the workers, and what are their main concerns? What government regulations are in place to protect them? How do market-oriented systems address the situation of workers? Who are or were resource users in the area, and how has their access to and management of resources been affected? These questions will be revisited, revised, and elaborated in the course of the project


For most of the past 100 years, governments have claimed sovereign rights to exclusively manage natural resources within their territories, although their success in exercising this monopoly in Southeast Asia was very uneven (Peluso and Vandergeest 2001). Starting in the 1980s, centralizing state authority in Southeast Asia was challenged by community forestry and fisheries movements, who sought recognition the rule-making authority of ‘local communities’ or user groups (Lynch and Talbott 1995; Pomeroy 1995; Marschke and Nong 2003). More recently, private and/or market-oriented regulatory schemes have become important, including eco-certification (e.g, Anh et al 2011; Vandergeest and Unno 2012), Payments for Ecosystem Services (PES) (e.g., Lu Xing and He Jun 2008; McElwee 2011; Milne and Adams 2012, Phuc 2012), legality verification for forest products (Cashore and Stone 2012) and ecotourism for forest conservation (Youdelis 2013; Hvenegaard and Deardon 1998). Scholars have produced a series of sector, commodity, and case-specific studies on Southeast Asia, especially for aquaculture (e.g., Belton et al. 2009; Belton et al. 2011; Anh et al. 2011; Bush et al. 2009; Bush et al. 2010; Vandergeest 2007; Coursin et al. 2007; Lebel et al. 2008; Loc et al. 2010); and to a lesser extent Detailed Description Peter Vandergeest 2 for forestry (e.g., Bartley 2010, Durst et al. 2006, Barney 2014). PES programs are also proliferating, with Vietnam taking the lead in creating national PES program for forest management (Phuc et al 2012). Regulation broadly understood involves the setting and communication of standards and rules, and the monitoring compliance with these standards, with penalties for non-compliance. Eco-certification adds to these activities the attaching of ‘eco-labels’ to products and enterprises which meet the standards; and creating institutions to implement these activities (Mutersbaugh 2005a,b; Hatanaka 2005; Ponte 2011). Many (but not all) eco-certification schemes include social standards for workers or affected residents. PES projects operate in a similar fashion—a seller receives payments in exchange for meeting specified conditionalities (Engel et al 2008) with respect to maintaining eco-system services, with compliance subject to verification through monitoring. The proliferation of non-state monitoring and verification has led to the emergence of a growing multi-billion dollar industry of companies and business-oriented NGOs who partner with corporate buyers to seek out ‘sustainable sources’ and assist in monitoring and certification—in effect paralleling the activities of state agencies that enforce state rules and regulations. Non-state and/or private governance has been justified and promoted in part because many environmental groups became frustrated with the effectiveness of government regulation. Ecocertification specifically has also been facilitated by the way that many so-called ‘value chains’ are increasingly driven by branded retail corporations (Dauvergne and Lister 2012). Environmental groups have thus found that they can be more effective when they leverage large corporate buyers. Branded retailers see sustainability requirements as a way to tighten their control over supply networks and achieve business goals including reducing costs (Dauvergne and Lister 2012), while also reducing or outsourcing exposure to the reputational risk. PES projects are similarly justified as an efficient alternative (or complement) to state ‘command and control’ regulation. PES scholars describe state regulation in developing countries as being especially inadequate -- as suffering from weak governance, high transaction costs, and monitoring and enforcement problems (Engel et al 2008:669). Other marketoriented forest and fisheries conservation schemes have also appeared to replace or supplement state authority, including legality verification programs in forestry, and eco-tourism. However, recent research has also shown that these market-oriented approaches are limited in important ways (e.g., Bush et al 2013). The market for products certified to environmental and social criteria, or verified as legal with respect to national standards, has remained confined largely to Europe and North America, while most fisheries and forestry products are sold and consumed elsewhere, especially in the growing Asian markets, where sustainability standards are not being required. Sustainability is often defined narrowly: Eco-certification regulates ‘clients’ (Foley 2012a) for their management activities within the confines of the regulated territory or its immediate vicinity (Bush et al 2013), and along certified commodity chains (Mutersbaugh 2005), creating ‘sustainability enclaves’ (Whitington 2012). PES similarly works through defining a client--often a community-- that can manage ecologies in a defined territory, and it needs to simplify complex ecosystem dynamics into measurable services (Milne and Adams 2012: 136). Broader sustainability and social issues in the fisheries or forestry sectors are not addressed, nor the general situation with respect to labour recruitment and working conditions. In addition, smaller producers (inshore fishers, small-scale fish farmers, community forests) often cannot afford the cost of assessments and audits, nor can they produce the extensive documentation required by the standards, and thus can potentially lose access to markets demanding private eco-certification or standards verification. Especially in fisheries certification, smaller fishers are often simply ignored (e.g., Ponte 2010), although in forestry, the Forestry Stewardship Council (currently the key transnational private certification organization for forestry) has committed to addressing these exclusions. When small producers are enrolled, the evidence to date indicates they have little influence within these schemes due to the way that standards are based largely on the interests of corporations, funders, environmental groups, and global north consumers Detailed Description Peter Vandergeest 3 (Hatanaka 2009; Anh et al 2011). Reviews of PES programs also highlight social inequity, as benefits are often limited to local elites or large landowners (Phuc et al 2012; McElwee 2012). In addition, market-based approaches are seldom purely ‘private’. They interact with, and remake, state and community authority, in diverse ways. Working with governments can expand programs to cover entire sectors: For example, the EU FLEGT’s program for verified legality in forest products runs their Timber Legality Assurance Program (TLAS) through governments, with EU financial support; the US government is implementing a parallel program (Canada is so far notably stayed away from verified legality mechanisms) (Cashore and Stone 2012). Many governments, most notably Thailand, run their own market-oriented certification program for aquaculture. PES and ecotourism programs are often financed or run by government agencies, or state agencies design and mediate the market relationship (Phuc et al 2012: 246; McElwee 2012 Youdelis 2013). Some government agencies support transnational or private eco-certification as a way of enhancing their regulatory capacity, or to help producers maintain and expand market access (e.g., Ha and Bush 2011; Anh et al 2011). Even where governance appears to be ‘non-state’ it remakes state authority by supplementing and displacing state rules and regulation, sometimes drawing opposition and hostility from state agencies (Vandergeest and Unno 2012). The contours and social/environmental implications of this dynamic plethora of public, private, and hybrid governance arrangements has only just begun to be understood (Cashore and Stone 2012). Research Question 1 thus proposes to explore and explain diverse interactions between public, community, and private authority. Our working hypotheses are first, that non-state or market-oriented regulation remakes public authority in diverse ways—sometimes competing with public authority, sometimes working with public authority. Second, if eco-certification, PES, and other market-oriented approaches are to have an impact beyond the creation of sustainability enclaves they will need to work with existing regulatory institutions, especially state agencies and communities. This in turn will raise difficult questions for these programs regarding participation in setting standards, flexibility in their application, information sharing, and reducing the reliance on technical experts. The concept of territorialization as an always incomplete process, and as an effect of regulatory networks (Painter 2010), has been applied in the field of political ecology to the ways that state resource agencies claim rule-making authority in territorially-defined ‘political forests’ (Vandergeest and Peluso 1995). It has also been applied to fisheries management (e.g., Zerner 1994; Johnson 2000), community based forestry (e.g., Peluso 2005), and PES (Suhardiman et al 2013, Corson 2011). There are varied kinds of territory created by non-state or hybrid regulation. For example, the Aquaculture Stewardship Council certifies individual farms, while the Marine Stewardship Council certifies clients who manage a territorially-bounded fishery (Bear and Eden 2009). PES works through the definition of sellers who manage ecologies in a defined territory, sometimes a community territory, sometimes an individual landholding. Research Question 2 thus focuses on territorialization to understand the interaction among state, non-state, and hybrid authorities in how they claim overlapping rule-making authority, and remake state territorial sovereignty. Like state territorialization, market-based regulation creates and mobilizes knowledge about ecologies, labour or other aspects of production, which are assessed against regulations and standards. The complex information mandated by various standards has facilitated a growing industry of companies and NGOs who do auditing, or who help producers become ‘audit-ready.’ Many are wellknown environmental organizations, who partner with buyers to identify products that satisfy their sustainability commitments. In PES programs, monitoring is done by a variety of actors including government agencies (McElwee 2012:418) or community committees (Milne and Adams 2012). In Research Question 3 we will trace the production and movement of knowledge; with the answers also contributing to answering questions 1 and 4. Our research on equity in Question 4 will first consider whether and how market-based regulation either excludes small producers, or enrolls them as subordinate ‘partners.’ We will also assess the effects and effectiveness of programs intended to counter this kind of marginalization. Second, we will ask Detailed Description Peter Vandergeest 4 whether and how local communities or residents lose resource access, for example, when new regulations and territorializations exclude previous users, or ‘sustainable’ plantations are planted at the expense of resource access among local communities (e.g. Barney 2013). Third, we will gather information on working conditions for employees, whether and how different regulatory systems can improve these conditions, and whether workers participate in creating and enforcing regulations.