Three decades ago, a grand experiment in human rights and global governance began to unfold. In the absence of rigorous government regulation of transnational corporations, civil society organizations began stepping into this regulatory void by collaborating with industry representatives to create voluntary codes of conduct and oversight mechanisms.
These multi-stakeholder initiatives (MSIs) now cover almost every major industry, from certifying food or consumer products as “sustainable,” “fair,” or “ethical,” to establishing good practices for internet companies in respect of privacy and freedom of expression online.
But have MSIs delivered on their promise to protect human rights?
Not Fit-For-Purpose reflects on a decade of research and analysis into international standard-setting MSIs. It concludes that this grand experiment has failed in its goal of providing effective protection against abuse. While MSIs can play important roles in building trust and generating dialogue, they are not fit-for-purpose to reliably detect abuses, hold corporations to account for harm, or provide access to remedy.
Through an analysis of six key cross-cutting insights, the report invites readers to think critically about the limitations of voluntary regulation and to envision more effective strategies to protect human rights.
It is time to rethink the appropriate role for—and limitations of—MSIs.
MSIs can be powerful forums for building trust, experimentation, and learning.
However, MSIs are not designed or equipped to be effective tools for protecting rights holders against human rights violations, holding corporations accountable for abuse, or providing survivors and victims with access to remedy.
It is time to center workers and affected communities in the governance and ownership of businesses.
As long as corporations remain primarily beholden to investors and operate in their current legal and governance frameworks, they will continue to make decisions that harm people and the planet.
We need to challenge the existing corporate form and promote more equitable business models.
See the latest news and media coverage of the report and check out “Rethinking Multi-Stakeholder Initiatives,” our blog series in partnership with Harvard Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic. The series shares critical perspectives on MSIs from a range of voices, with a particular focus on whether they are working for rights holders and whether or how we need to rethink the role of MSIs as human rights tools.
By Manon Wolfkamp, David Ollivier de Leth and Mariëtte van Huijstee Between 2014 and 2019, Dutch businesses in garments and textile, banking, forestry, gold, food
“This month, researchers at MSI Integrity released “Not-Fit-For-Purpose,” their final report about these practices, and the culmination of a decade of analysis. The verdict? This