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Article

20 Aug 2020

Author:
Harris Gleckman

Commentary: Where Is the Debate About Democracy and Multi-stakeholder Governance?

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Beyond standard-setting MSIs, there are two other forms of multi-stakeholder global governance arrangements: (1) multi-stakeholder bodies that develop global policy directions; and (2) multi-stakeholder consortia which implement specific geographically and time-limited projects...

These three types of multi-stakeholder arrangements—standard-setting, policy-setting, and project-delivery—reflect the diversity of forms of multi-stakeholderism in practice and in theory. They represent a drive to shift global governance away from multilateralism and one-country-one-vote toward a multi-stakeholder form of global governance.

In my view, the state of democracy in the MSI world needs to be evaluated on at least four grounds: (1) its internal rules to manage the imbalance of power between the different types of MSI board members; (2) an assessment of the legitimacy of MSIs’ impact on the wider world; (3) the effectiveness of its anti-conflict of interest policies; and (4) their claims to legitimacy through democratic language. This blog looks at the last evaluation criteria.

The advocates of multi-stakeholderism have described MSI undertakings as good examples of “inclusive governance,” “participatory governance,” and “stakeholder governance.” The choice of these expressions says a lot, unintentionally, about their perceptions of democracy...

The democracy claim for stakeholder governance is fundamentally undermined by the political flexibility of the key “stakeholder” term...

Even in MSIs where politically marginal social movements are “represented” in the decision-making body of an MSI, the voluntary nature of MSI compliance means that they are not “participating” in governing their global economic sector...

Examining the use of language of democracy and of inclusion is just one ground on which to challenge multi-stakeholderism in global governance. Indeed, we might see multi-stakeholderism as a linguistic cloak for those who actually desire to institutionalize a corporate position in setting global policies and standards while keeping the profit-focused corporate structure in place. A serious reflection is needed to assess this shift and push for truly democratic global governance.

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