International trade has made it impossible to see the consequences of our purchases. Buy a smartphone, and you might later learn you helped exploit factory workers. Eat a hamburger, only to find out that you are destroying the rainforest.
Our textbook solution to this problem, to date, has been certification. You look for the label that assures you that green watchdogs have certified a product: organic, fair trade, dolphin safe, cruelty free, and approved by the Forest Stewardship Council. Then you consume in peace.
If one label turns out to be lacking or flawed, we make another. The Ecolabel Index has catalogued 459 different forms of certification. Certification can seem like the only way to deal with the opacity that comes with international trade. But in a new book-length essay, Beyond Certification, Scott Poynton argues that certification is failing — and offers an alternative. It’s a surprising and…
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