How can private companies promote sustainable land use through their supply chains

Université catholique de Louvain (Belgium)

Colombia_Bager_2020_a (1)

Photo credit: Simon Bager

Large private companies whose brand has a high level of recognition by consumers have been put under pressure by civil society to contribute to sustainability. As a result, many multinational companies have adopted sustainable sourcing practices, which are defined as voluntary practices companies pursue to improve the social and/or environmental management of their suppliers’ activities. This includes, for example, commitments to eliminate deforestation from their supply chains – which link producers to final consumers,– or to achieve broader social and environmental improvements. Companies implement these pledges by committing to certify the raw materials they purchase from suppliers, audit these suppliers, engage in local and direct sourcing, invest in smallholder farms, etc. There are great variations in the nature, stringency, level of transparency, and effectiveness of these commitments depending on the companies, commodities, and regions.

At the same time, governments in certain areas, for example, the European Union (EU), are becoming increasingly aware of the sustainability challenges within the global agri-food sector, especially in relation to climate change, and the need to act to address these. New regulatory initiatives and policy instruments are introduced to govern the sustainability impacts of agri-food value chains. Whether this signals increased public collaboration with private actors, a return of the state as an important player in governing sustainability, or a wholeheartedly different approach to addressing sustainability is an open question. Undoubtedly, though, there is thus a confluence of new initiatives to address sustainability challenges in agricultural value chains; nevertheless, there is a lack of understanding as to how such governance interventions can foster sustainable land use.

Coffee in parchment, ready for milling. Photo credit: Simon Bager

The overarching question of this PhD is how governance interventions in agricultural supply chains can foster sustainable land use. The objective of the research is to extract theoretical, methodological, empirical and policy-relevant lessons about governance interventions in agricultural supply chains to foster sustainable land use; and to provide knowledge and insights on private and public strategies to address sustainability and sustainable land use through agricultural supply chains. Within this framework, the PhD research has four overarching goals:

  • Identifying policy options for governing sustainable land use processes, actors, and impacts, focusing on options for the EU to address commodity-driven deforestation
  • Assessing the state of private-sector sustainability governance in an agri-food supply chain, using the coffee sector as a case
  • Understanding the implementation of sustainability governance instruments in the private-sector, focusing specifically on the use of zero-deforestation commitments
  • Analysing how technological advancements, such as blockchain, can promote sustainability within global value chains, using a project in the coffee sector as a case


Simon Bager

Université catholique de Louvain, Earth and Life Institute, Georges Lemaître Centre for Earth and Climate Research (TECLIM)
Place Pasteur 3, bte L4.03.08, 1348 Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium

“My research focuses on the sustainability commitments made by companies, the effectiveness of these, the challenges, opportunities and technical means for achieving these, and identification of supportive governance mechanisms for sustainable value chains.”

Simon Bager

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Publications …

Bager, S., U.M.Persson & T.N.P. dos Reis (2021). Eighty-six EU policy options for reducing imported deforestationOne Earth 4: 289-306,

Bager, S.L. & E.F. Lambin (2020). Sustainability strategies by companies in the global coffee sector. Business Strategy and the Environment 1-16.

Coenen, J., S. Bager, P. Meyfroidt, J. Newig & E. Challies (2020). Environmental Governance of China’s Belt and Road Initiative. Environmental Policy and Governance 1–15.

Reis, T.N.P. dos, P. Meyfroidt, E.K.H.J. zu Ermgassen, C. West, T. Gardner, S. Bager, S. Croft, M.J. Lathuillière, J. Godar (2020). Understanding the Stickiness of Commodity Supply Chains Is Key to Improving Their Sustainability. One Earth 3(1):100-115,

Kehoe, L., T.N.P. dos Reis, P. Meyfroidt, S. Bager, R. Seppelt, T. Kuemmerle, E. Berenguer, M. Clark, K. Frankel Davis, E. K.H.J. zu Ermgassen, K.N. Farrell, C. Friis, H. Haberl, T. Kastner, K.L. Murtough, U.M. Persson, A. Romero-Munoz, C. O’Connell, V.V.Schafer, M. Virah-Sawmy, Y. le Polain de Waroux, J Kiesecker (2020). Inclusion, Transparency, and Enforcement: How the EU-Mercosur Trade Agreement Fails the Sustainability Test. CommentaryOne Earth 3:268-272.