Voluntary governance initiatives and the challenges of inclusion and upscaling: Peter Knorringa, Gerdien Meijerink and Greetje Schouten
Multi-stakeholder initiatives are an increasingly popular way for firms to operationalize their societal responsibility. Examples of such initiatives are the sector-specific roundtables on responsible soy and sustainable palm oil (respectively, the RTRS and RSPO), the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and the multi-sectoral Ethical Trading Initiative. Such initiatives can be viewed as manifestations of private, public-private or, perhaps more accurately, voluntary governance, since they aim to respond to societal expectations that are not covered by law or regulation. While such initiatives are popular, little is known about their effectiveness. This chapter explores two systemic challenges to voluntary governance initiatives: inclusion and upscaling. Inclusion refers to the extent to which all relevant stakeholders genuinely participate in setting up and implementing specific activities in response to societal expectations. Upscaling refers to the extent to which successful individual initiatives are mainstreamed. Though inclusion and upscaling are often mentioned as challenges to effective voluntary governance, the academic literature has not systematically scrutinized these issues. By and large, the literature on voluntary governance has not yet moved beyond case studies, with different case studies using various analytical tools depending on the background and preferences of the author(s). We therefore observe a lack of conceptual embedding of (the challenges related to) voluntary governance. As a first step to overcoming the existing ad hoc theorization, we combine three different but complementary sets of concepts from different disciplinary backgrounds and consider how these might shed light on the major challenges faced in voluntary governance. We argue that combining these approaches enhances our ability to seek solutions to these two main challenges. Although our main contribution is conceptual, we also bring in some illustrative examples. The chapter is structured as follows. It first introduces three sets of concepts that are used to analyse voluntary governance initiatives, but have not yet been combined. Next, with these frameworks we investigate the challenges of inclusion and upscaling. The conclusion then assesses the value-added of combining these three approaches and the implications for policymakers.