Accepted paper:

The mass balance act: the spatial and temporal logistics of global supply chains


Martin Skrydstrup (Copenhagen Business School)
Esther Turnhout (Wageningen University)

Paper short abstract:

This paper investigates the changing geopolitics of spatialities and temporalities in the logics of global supply chains through a technical debate about the global trade of sustainable palm oil.

Paper long abstract:

A global supply chain rings of seamless travel of commodities across space and through time. The expert vernacular of "upstream" and "downstream" reinforce this idea of flow through actor-networks distributed across material and immaterial infrastructures predicated on the parameters of large-scale commodity exchange, efficiency and logics. Following recent challenges to the "linearity" of such global supply chains (Neilson & Pritchard 2009) and calls to rethink global supply chains as "translation machines" (Tsing 2015), this paper will grapple with the spatial and temporal logics of a single supply chain scheme. My point of entry is a technical debate about a motion tabled in the Trade & Traceability Committee (RSPO) concerning "multi-sited Mass Balance certification". The formal logic of the Mass Balance supply chain scheme is that a certain amount of metric tons can be bought virtually as a certificate, which is allowed to be mixed with crude palm oil in the physical supply chain, as long as the same quantity, which was bought is also received at a given end. The paper seeks to understand the spatial and temporal debates, which this proposal released. The proposal was contested, but common to all actors was that the arguments advanced all referred to the logic of efficiency. This technical debate brings to the fore questions about the spatial and temporal logistics of the global trade in sustainable palm oil and perhaps more broadly the relationships between infrastructures that underpin resource use and imaginations of environmental sustainability.

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Logistics, time and environment