Private governance, in the form of certification schemes, has grown remarkably in the past decades as a response to some of the most pressing environmental and social challenges. Certification schemes denote steering mechanisms that allow enterprises to voluntarily adhere to a set of verifiable principles. While certification has global aspirations, its uptake and growth are heterogeneous across different countries. Yet, few studies empirically analyze such variation. We address this gap by focusing on the Forest Stewardship Council, a major sustainable forestry management certification program. We empirically evaluate uptake and growth across 151 countries and hypothesize that market and socio-political characteristics explain variation in uptake and growth. We find that a value-added wood industry, state-control of the forestry industry and competing certification programs, contrary to the literature, are key drivers.