Commodifying Legality? Who and What Counts as Legal in the Indonesian Wood Trade

Abidah Setyowati, Constance L. McDermott*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

35 Citations (Scopus)


This article examines how legality verification in Indonesia, as developed under the European Union (EU) Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA), shapes who and what count as legal. A review of Indonesia’s evolving legality verification system and in-depth stakeholder interviews reveal a process of commodification driven by international demand for an interchangeable label of “legality.” This interchangeability is produced through a reduction of forest governance to a narrow set of legal standards and third-party, private auditing, which risks obscuring key governance challenges such as corruption and unclear tenure, and excluding most domestic and small-scale operators from economic and legal recognition. Given the market logic of legality licensing, it is more likely to “ratchet down” than “ratchet up” local access to, and benefit from, wood production, unless there is greater support and investment in legal and tenure reforms and improved local benefit capture.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)750-764
Number of pages15
JournalSociety and Natural Resources
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 3 Jun 2017
Externally publishedYes


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