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Goal-Based Private Sustainability Governance and Its Paradoxes in the Indonesian Palm Oil Sector.

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Garrett, Rachael D 


In response to stakeholder pressure, companies increasingly make ambitious forward-looking sustainability commitments. They then draw on corporate policies with varying degrees of alignment to disseminate and enforce corresponding behavioral rules among their suppliers and business partners. This goal-based turn in private sustainability governance has important implications for its likely environmental and social outcomes. Drawing on paradox theory, this article uses a case study of zero-deforestation commitments in the Indonesian palm oil sector to argue that goal-based private sustainability governance's characteristics set the stage for two types of paradoxes to emerge: performing paradoxes between environmental, social, and economic sustainability goals, and organizing paradoxes between cooperation and competition approaches. Companies' responses to these paradoxes, in turn, can explain the lack of full goal attainment and differential rates of progress between actors. These results draw our attention to the complexities hidden behind governance through goal setting in the corporate space, and raise important questions about the viability of similar strategies such as science-based targets and net-zero goals.


Acknowledgements: This work has been generously funded by the SNF project grant nr. 100017_192373 “Assessing the effectiveness and equity of zero-deforestation commitment implementation in the palm oil sector,” as well as by ETH Zurich’s World Food System Center’s Fonds Welternährungssystem and an ETH Zurich Startup Grant. The authors wish to thank Arya Hadi Dharmawan, Nia Kurniawati Hidayat, Fakhrizal Nashr, Rizka Amalia, Faris Rahmadian, and Dyah Ita Mardiyaningsih from IPB University, as well as Kimberly Carlson from New York University and Kristjan Jespersen from Copenhagen Business School, for assistance in accessing the field and sharing local contacts. Thank you also to all interviewees for contributing their time and knowledge. The article benefitted from insightful comments from Tobias Hahn, Samuel A. Levy, Eva Lieberherr, Ignasi Marti Lanuza, Constance McDermott, Garima Sharma, Ferran Torres Nadal, as well as participants of the 2021 International Studies Association conference, the Oxford Centre for Tropical Forests (OCTF) seminar, ESADE’s Institute for Social Innovation seminar, the 2022 GRONEN Reading Group, and the anonymous reviewers and the editor.

Funder: Fonds Welternährungssystem, World Food System Center, ETH Zurich

Funder: Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich


Governance through goals, Paradoxical tensions, Private sustainability governance

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J Bus Ethics

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Springer Science and Business Media LLC
European Commission Horizon 2020 (H2020) ERC (949932)
Swiss National Science Foundation (192373)