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Private and Civil Society Initiatives

As globalization proceeds, a plurality of actors are shaping and developing regulatory mechanisms alongside national government and international organizations. There is a vast and fast developing set of initiatives that crosses boundaries and seeks to engage economic agents, particularly firms, in contributing to equity and fairness in the global economy. Corporate social responsibility (CRS) has become a new buzz word, and various stakeholders are getting involved in spreading and strengthening the new forms of economic and social regulatory instruments. Even a corporate governance market is emerging. Another development concerns new types of transnational bargaining. The emergence of these initiatives tends to confirm a process of “re-regulation” of the world economy involving a transfer of regulatory authority from state to non-state actors and new partnerships between private agents, unions, consumers, investors, NGOs, government and international organizations.

These initiatives take various forms (codes of conduct, trade association codes, international codes, framework agreements between global firms and global unions). Developed by firms and actors from civil society, such as unions, NGOs and consumers, since the late 1990s, there has been a ratcheting-up process of standards and implementation procedures of these initiatives as they are increasingly supported and promoted by governments and international organizations.

Corporate social responsibility (CRS) and other types of transnational initiatives can play a vital role in the GLG. Proponents argue that they can contribute to better labour standards in the world, enhanced corporate performance, educate consumers, improve supply management and social justice. Nevertheless, especially in the domain of labour standards, one can wonder about their effectiveness. These initiatives are often characterized as being conducive to a privatization of labours standards, as they are most often associated with “softer” and voluntary business regulation mechanisms being promoted in an attempt to improve company performance.

Many questions are being asked. Here are some examples: What are the legitimacy and efficiency of these initiatives as compared to more legalistic, “harder” approaches involving state actors? What are the norms being promoted? What are the compliance and monitoring mechanisms? Are theses initiatives filling a gap, complementing other instruments (like the ILO conventions and national laws) or just contributing to dilute global labour governance mechanisms? Can these initiatives actually improve corporate accountability and contribute to a more effective GLG?

The future will tell if regulatory arrangements that go beyond voluntary approaches can ensure greater compliance and the levelling up of labour standards. This section will provide research tools and key information on the debate around the nature of these initiatives and on their significance for the GLG.


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