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3 Sep 2020

Rebecca Tweedie and Tyler Giannini

Commentary: Be Wary of the Fox(es): A Power Analysis of MSIs

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The opening blog in this series laid out two different paths MSIs could have taken...

The differences between the institutions that emerge from the two paths may not be as obvious as one may think. The first path describes MSIs as democratic governing bodies where different stakeholders with adequate representation come to agreement on reasonable and effective standards... The second path still includes a governing body with multiple stakeholders, but the representation is skewed to favor one party (repeatedly industry actors), the standards the institution creates are weak, or its sanctions are ineffective or rarely used... In the end, the persistent power imbalances in the second have resulted in MSIs that allow corporate actors to call the shots and reap the reputational benefits of multi-stakeholderism.

In hindsight, the road to corporate capture was predictable...

Let’s play with the fox analogy a bit more. We see three alternative paths for building institutions that create better human rights outcomes.

First, the foxes become vegetarian.

Second, the farmer does its job.

Third, the chickens are in charge...

[1] There would need to be a change in culture—where the new generation of foxes are vegetarian. This is a normative shift away from the sole primacy of profit-maximization to a more human-centered capitalism...

[2] This, simply put, is government oversight...

[3] The rise of worker-driven social responsibility and other models designed by rights holders and affected communities demonstrates the potential of private governance when there is a real shift in power among the stakeholders. The limits of the fox analogy are most acute here, as the helplessness of chickens does not connote the strength and agency of workers and communities, and the advantages they have in designing governing institutions that best fit the industry and the rights—their rights—that are at stake. The success of worker-driven consortiums makes this abundantly clear. Especially in the absence of government oversight, these models—where the fox does not build nor guard the coop—offer the most long-term promise for human rights protection.