Chapter 5: Fairtrade International governance
Voluntary standards-setting organizations are not neutral entities. They are political constructions in which actors’ interests play out and power dynamics shape outcomes. The standards they create are likewise not simple derivatives of scientific evidence or aggregates of professional expertise but instead the products of political negotiation. In private regulatory bodies, as in all political arenas, the good and the awful manage to coexist, and the outcomes are just as subject to manipulation by powerful actors as in any other realm of global politics (Hurrell 2005, 44; Meidinger 2011, 407; Renard and Loconto 2012, 53). In the late 1990s, as non-state actors began playing an increasingly significant role in the global political economy, a body of literature emerged to discuss the nature and power of private authorities in international affairs (e.g., Cutler, Haufler and Porter 1999; Hall and Biersteker 2002). Scholars argued that private actors had the potential to bring public interests – such as sustainability and poverty reduction – and traditionally marginalized voices to the fore of global economic policy-making. They showed how private regulators might provide a counterweight to increasingly powerful multinational corporations or raise social standards in a moment when states were lowering the bar in order to attract foreign direct investment. Yet alongside such optimistic accounts loomed a formidable concern: such (desirable) outcomes depended on private actors’ capacities to understand and represent nebulous constituencies with complex and sometimes contradicting objectives.
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