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Private Norms in the Global Political Economy

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In a traditional perspective, the norms regulating the global political economy are set and enforced by governments, as well as by intergovernmental organizations (IGOs) such as the WTO and the IMF. Depending upon the theoretical framework utilized, governments are driven by self-interest, are lobbied by domestic interest groups, or are instrumentalized by class interests. Although some of these frameworks incorporate a certain role for private interests such as business and labour, it is always governments that finally are calling the shots.

More recently, however, increasing attention is being given to private actors in global economic regulation. Transnational private actors are considered to play a role of their own, besides governments and IGOs. Two different aspects of this new role are being distinguished. Firstly, business and NGOs are participating with governments and IGOs in global or transnational (public) policy networks. Although governments may still formally make the final decisions in these public-private networks, the decision-making process cannot be properly understood without taking the independent positions and resources of private actors into account. Most examples for transnational policy networks are found within EU multi-level governance, but there are also some cases on the global level, such as the UN Global Compact or the World Commission on Dams.

An even more radical departure from the traditional government-centred model of international relations is undertaken within the discussion on global or transnational private authority. Here, private actors themselves are setting and enforcing norms, particularly concerning the behaviour of business. Governments or inter-governmental entities are relegated to a background role, but still, explicitly or at least implicitly supporting the exercise of private authority. Private authority here can be considered as a particular case of the broader category of private norms, with a particular emphasis on the acceptance of private norms as legitimate, enjoying a high degree of authority and the backing by governments:

First, those subject to the rules and decisions being made by private sector actors must accept them as legitimate, as the representations of experts and those “in authority”. Second, there should exist a high degree of compliance with the rules and decisions. Third, the private sector must be empowered either explicitly or implicitly by governments with the right to make decisions for others.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: January 1, 2006

More about this publication?
  • Global Norms for the Twenty-First Century
    Norms in the contemporary world system are no longer established exclusively through inter-state agreement but increasingly, are becoming truly global. This collection brings together critical studies on this complex process. Written by authors from eleven different countries, the book challenges the often convenient rationalisations of regime theory, the governance approach, and 'post-national' or 'cosmopolitan' democracy, in order to explore the practical, theoretical and ethical implications of the new world of global norms.
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