Multi-stakeholder initiatives involve actors from several spheres of society (market, civil society and state) in collaborative arrangements to reach objectives typically related to sustainable development. In political CSR literature, these arrangements have been framed as improvements to transnational governance and as being somehow democratic. We draw on Mouffe’s works on agonistic pluralism to problematize the notion that consensus-led multi-stakeholder initiatives bring more democratic control on corporate power. We examine two initiatives which address two very different issue areas: the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) and the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety (The Accord). We map the different kinds of adversarial relations involved in connection with the issues meant to be governed by the two initiatives, and find those adversarial relations to take six main shapes, affecting the initiatives in different ways: (1) competing regulatory initiatives; (2) pressure-response relations within multi-stakeholder initiatives; (3) pressure-response relations between NGOs and states through multi-stakeholder initiatives; (4) collaboration and competition between multi-stakeholder initiatives and states; (5) pressure-response relations between civil society actors and multi-stakeholder initiatives; and (6) counter-hegemonic movements against multi-stakeholder initiatives as hegemonic projects. We conclude that multi-stakeholder initiatives cannot be democratic by themselves, and we argue that business and society researchers should not look at democracy or politics only internally to these initiatives, but rather study how issue areas are regulated through interactions between a variety of actors—both within and without the multi-stakeholder initiatives—who get to have a legitimate voice in this regulation.
- 512 Business and Management
- Agonistic pluralism
- Multi-stakeholder initiatives (MSIs)
Sustainable Development Goals
- GOAL 17: Partnerships to achieve the Goal
Areas of Strength and Areas of High Potential (AoS and AoHP)
- AoS: Responsible organising