Organized Panel Session
From palm oil to diamonds to seafood, recent decades have seen growing consumer anxiety about the sourcing of globally circulated natural resources. In response, new state- and civil society-led governance initiatives have emerged with the goal of making natural resource supply chains more environmentally sustainable and socially just. These range from certification schemes designed to reward “good” behavior to policing efforts aimed at taming “bad” behavior. Intended or not, these interventions—and the sustainability discourses they draw on—have often involved either blaming or excluding smallholders, informal laborers, and petty producers, which has in turn benefited large-scale operations and states.
This panel features research on such governance initiatives in Southeast Asia: a region where, despite decades of commercialization of resource extraction activities, small-scale producers remain extremely important contributors to transnational commodity sectors. Oversimplified environmental narratives decrying illegal mining, seafood “slavery,” or the backwardness of peasant agriculture tend to obscure the interconnected nature of small- and large-scale operations within these production networks. The resulting environmental and social governance initiatives, which tend to demand that resource production activities become more regulated and “legible,” can reinforce longer histories of small-scale producers’ marginalization and state assertions of territorial control. This panel highlights the unintended effects of new sustainability discourses and resource governance regimes in Southeast Asia. It calls particular attention to how such efforts affect large- and small-scale producers differentially despite their often-ignored interdependencies.