Supermarkets and Private Standards of Sustainability: The Responsibility to Protect Without Protectionism

  • Tiago Matsuoka Megale


The current international economic scenario is characterised by the presence of an increasing number of multinational enterprises, the spread of global value chains and the creation of transnational regulatory networks. These phenomena contribute to the erosion of the regulatory capacity of the State and generate questions about how to regulate the structures created by private actors. This chapter aims to analyse the extent to which private standards of sustainability imposed by supermarkets protect common values, such as human life or health rather than constituting disguised restrictions to trade. Sustainability standards are initiatives that could be welcome on corporate social responsibility (CSR) grounds, but can be protectionist from a trade regulation perspective. These standards exist in a legal vacuum, given the multilateral World Trade Organization (WTO)-centred trade system does regulate global trade, but with rules that are binding only on Member States. This regulatory gap is generally filled by private standards of sustainability that regulate the production framework and the quality of goods sold in supermarket chains. These must be coherent with international standards on CSR. This chapter calls for the deepening of the international sustainability agenda to go beyond the classical economic, environmental and social pillars to encompass principles of good governance.


Private standards Sustainability Supermarkets Protectionism 


  1. Amaral A Jr (2011) Curso de Direito Internacional Público. Atlas, São PauloGoogle Scholar
  2. Backer LC (2007) Economic globalization and the rise of efficient systems of global private law making: Wal-Mart as global legislator. Conn Law Rev 39(4):1739–1784Google Scholar
  3. Carroll AB, Shabana KM (2010) The business case for corporate social responsibility: a review of concepts, research and practice. Int J Manag Rev:85–105Google Scholar
  4. Casino (2016) 2016 Annual and Corporate Social Responsibility Performance Report. Available via: Accessed 15 July 2018
  5. Casino (2017) 2017 Annual and Corporate Social Responsibility Performance Report. Available via: Accessed 15 July 2018
  6. Cox S (2007) Tesco Nature’s Choice. An Example of a Private Scheme. Available via: Accessed 15 July 2018
  7. CSR Europe (2013) Casino—Casino Carbon Index. Available via: Accessed 15 July 2018
  8. Cutting R, Cahoon L, Flood J, Horton L, Schramm M (2011) Spill the beans: good guide, Walmart and EPA use information as efficient, market-based environmental regulation. Tulane Environ Law J 24:291–334Google Scholar
  9. Denend L (2010) Walmart’s Sustainability Strategy. Available via: Accessed 15 July 2018
  10. Duit A (2016) Environmental Politics among Advanced Industrial Democracies. Available via: Accessed 15 July 2018
  11. Euromonitor (2010) Do Brands Still Matter? Focus on Private Label Packaged Food. Available via: Accessed 15 July 2018
  12. Euromonitor (2014) The New Face of Private Label: Global Market Trends to 2018. Available via: Accessed 15 July 2018
  13. Fulponi L (2006) Private voluntary standards in the food system: the perspective of major food retailers in OECD countries. Food Policy 31:1–13CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Greenpeace (2011) Tesco produce in China unsafe for three years now. Available via: Accessed 15 July 2018
  15. GV CES (2014) Comemos melhor ou pior? Página 22:81Google Scholar
  16. Hammoudi A, Hoffman R, Surry Y (2009) Food safety standards and Agri-food supply chains: an introductory overview. Eur Rev Agric Econ 36(4):469–478CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Human Rights Watch (2007) Eliminate Double Standard in Code. Available via: Accessed 17 July 2018
  18. Human Rights Watch (2010) A Strange Case: Violations of Workers’ Freedom of Association in the United States by European Multinational Corporations. Available via: Accessed 16 July 2018
  19. Jackson A, Komives K (2014) Introduction to voluntary sustainability standard systems. In: Schmitz-Hoffmann C, Schmidt M, Hansmann B, Palekhov D (eds) Voluntary standard systems: a contribution to sustainable development. Springer, Berlin, pp 3–19Google Scholar
  20. Kamp-Roelands N (2013) Private sector initiatives on measuring and reporting on green growth. Available via: Accessed 15 July 2018
  21. Koca-Helvaci ZC (2015) Walmart and its employee relations: organizational stance-taking and legitimacy. Horizon 23(4):374–386CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Kulke E, Suwala L (2016) Internationalisation of grocery retailing in the global south: general conditions, formats and spatial expansion patterns of selected MNEs. J Geogr Soc Berlin 147(3):187–200Google Scholar
  23. Lebaron G, Lister J (2015) Benchmarking global supply chains: the power of the ‘ethical audit’ regime. Rev Int Stud 41(5):905–924CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Matsushita M, Schoenbaum T, Mavroidis P, Hahn M (2015) The World Trade Organization. Law, practice and policy. Oxford University Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  25. Meliado F (2017) Private standards, trade and sustainable development: policy options for collective action. International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development, GenevaGoogle Scholar
  26. Sutton-Brady C, Taylor T, Kamvounias P (2017) Private label brands: a relationship perspective. J Bus Ind Mark 32(8):1051–1061CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Swinnen JFM, Vandemoortele T (2011) Trade and the political economy of food standards. J Agric Econ 62(2):259–280CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Tesco (2016) Tesco 2016 update on corporate responsibility commitments. Available via: Accessed 16 July 2018
  29. Tesco (2017) Reducing our impact on the environment. Available via: Accessed 15 July 2018
  30. Tse YK, Zhang M, Doherty R, Chappell PJ, Garnett PR (2016) Exploring the hidden patterns in tweets: a study of product recall scandal. Paper presented at International Society for Business Innovation & Technology Management Conference, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, United KingdomGoogle Scholar
  31. Tzilivakis J, Green A, Warner D, McGeevor K, Lewis K (2012) A framework for practical and effective eco-labelling of food products. Sustain Account Manage Policy J 3(1):50–73CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Vandemoortele T, Deconinck K (2013) When are private standards more stringent than public standards? Am J Agric Econ 96(1):154–171CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Walmart (2015) Sustainability Report 2015. Available via: Accessed 15 July 2018
  34. Walmart (2017) Walmart 2017 global responsibility report. Available via: Accessed 15 July 2018
  35. Wrigley N, Lowe M (2010) The globalization of trade in retail services. Available via: Accessed 15 July 2018

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  • Tiago Matsuoka Megale
    • 1
  1. 1.Escola de Administração de Empresas de São Paulo of Fundação Getúlio VargasSão PauloBrazil

Personalised recommendations