Addressing Corporate Human Rights Challenges Through Multi-Stakeholder Initiatives

Multi-Stakeholder Initiatives (MSIs) have become the default response to address so-called governance gaps, situations in which state actors are either unable or unwilling to provide basic rights for their citizen. MSIs typically form in response to crisis – after major corporate human rights scandals made headlines. In these situations, MSIs are set up to address challenges that no actor could solve alone.

They typically bring together corporate stakeholders as well as stakeholders from civil society and academia, sometimes even governments. Some MSIs focus on dialogue and learning (for example, various roundtables or the UN Global Compact). Some focus on establishing human rights in supply chains of individual products (e.g. palm oil, cocoa, gold), while others define standards for specific industries (e.g. Forest Stewardship Council, Marine Stewardship Council, International Code of Conduct for Private Security Companies).

In a recent working paper, AHRCentre Deputy Director Justine Nolan and her co-authors Dorothee Baumann-Pauly, Auret van Heerden and Michael Samway examine the legitimacy of MSIs as a form of public regulation. This paper focuses on two MSIs -  the Fair Labor Association (FLA) and the Global Network Initiative (GNI) both well-known organizations in their respective industries and both initiatives are regularly subject to intense public criticism; an indication that these organizations matter in their respective industries.


The study shows while MSIs have often developed in part because of the lack of other viable regulatory options, they may in fact be one of the more pragmatic responses to business and human rights challenges, and potentially effective for closing governance gaps and establishing respect for human rights through core business operations.





photo credit: Bert van Dijk