Handbooks of Research on International Political Economy series
Edited by Anthony Payne and Nicola Phillips
Chapter 20: Private governance and social legitimacy in production
Private governance is defined as the 'non-governmental institutions that govern - that is they enable and constrain - a broad range of economic activities in the world economy', and 'serve functions that have historically been the task of governments, most notably that of regulating the negative externalities of economic activity' (Mayer and Gereffi 2010: 1). In its early stages before much empirical research was done on private governance, it was often either glorified or demonised. At mainstream corporate social responsibility (CSR) conferences or in executive Master of Business Administration (MBA) programmes one might encounter triumphant corporate presentations about businesses' inherently positive societal impacts through creating win-win situations that addressed major societal challenges. Alternatively, critical thinkers often quite dismissively labelled private governance as the latest trick in the capitalists' box of tricks to hide their real exploitative intentions. While both camps could easily produce cases to support their claims, the underlying ideas that private governance is either a silver bullet or still-born were not based on any systematic examination of the actual impacts of private governance (Knorringa and Helmsing 2008). Fortunately, more empirically grounded research on private governance has boomed in recent years, looking at, for example, the 'privatisation of regulation' by global and national standard-setters (Büthe and Mattli 2011), the impacts of private governance initiatives (Reed et al. 2012) and the 'drivers and limitations' of private governance through standards (Ponte et al. 2011).
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