Virtually the Reality: Negotiating the Distance between Standards and Local Realities When Certifying Sustainable Aquaculture

Studio Apertura

​To account for the many challenges of increasingly global industries, remote regulation measures such as sustainability standards have become continuously more important as a means to ensure global accountability and transparency. As standard certification is assessed through audits, the legitimacy of these standards rests on uncritically evoked norms of auditing, such as independence and objectivity. In this paper, we seek to investigate the claim of these norms as a prerequisite for the audit process of sustainability standards.

Based on interviews and fieldwork in the salmon aquaculture industry, we explore how it is possible to concurrently uphold the standard and account for the different conditions of the many local realities. Our findings point to the interactional character of audits, often downplayed for legitimacy purposes, and how this is vital to achieve both 'distance for neutrality' and 'proximity for knowledge production'. We argue for increased transparency concerning the human element of sustainability auditing, thus acknowledging the significance of reciprocal knowledge production when using standards as a route towards sustainability.