Societal dynamics of sustainability certification in Ghanaian cocoa producing communities: Assessing social cohesion effects and their implications for collective action

Franziska Ollendorf, Stefan Sieber & Katharina Löhr (2022)

Key facts

Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems
Type of publication
Journal article
Elements of social cohesion
Intergroup relations
Geographical focus
Main thematic areas
Economic development
Political institutions & governance
Development cooperation


In the global cocoa-chocolate chain, sustainability certification became the most widely applied industry tool to respond to sustainability challenges, such as extreme poverty among cocoa producers, and related issues of child labor and deforestation. This contribution analyzes how sustainability certification shapes broader social dynamics in targeted communities by applying the concept of social cohesion. This framework allows for the discussion on the appropriateness of sustainability certification to foster the needed societal conditions for community empowerment and collective action, both of which often regarded as key for a broader sustainability transition. Insights from key informant interviews in two Ghanaian cocoa communities targeted by a Rainforest Alliance cocoa sustainability project indicate that there is an enhanced interaction between scheme participants leading to new ingroup-outgroup patterns among community members. Further, while some informal institutions and one particular societal group are negatively affected by the sustainability intervention, no broader effect on communities’ overall social cohesion was measured. Finally, despite contributing to the greening of cocoa production, certification implements measures that risk to hamper the spread of collective action and may dilute the “societal glue” in targeted communities.

Publication_2022_Franziska Ollendorf, Stefan Sieber & Katharina Löhr

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