Rethinking Transnational Governance: Private Rules, Public Law, and Possibilities for Reform

Lectures Series "Rules and Rights in the Global Economy" by Tim Bartley – Lecture II

Tim Bartley’s lectures will focus on global rule-making projects and their implications for industries, workers, environments, and communities. Neoliberal globalization has often appeared unruly, with rapidly changing flows of money, products, and people producing new challenges for governments, citizens, and companies. Yet the rise of global production architectures has also been accompanied by rule-making projects of various sorts, including those concerned with fairness, sustainability, and justice for marginalized residents. More than empty symbolism but less than a transformation of capitalism, these rules are shaping the practices of companies, NGOs, and governments in subtle and contradictory ways. The lectures will examine the consequences of rules for land and labor and develop a new theory of transnational governance. 

Lecture I (May 9): Beyond Empty Spaces: Structure and Substance in the Implementation of Global Norms

Drawing on research on fair labor and sustainable forestry standards in Indonesia and China, this presentation will reveal the “on-the-ground” consequences of global norms and move toward a new theory of transnational governance. Norms about human rights, environmentalism, labor rights, and transparency have spread widely – as shown in research on transnational advocacy networks and world society – spawning a number of specific rule-making projects. Yet theories that can explain whether and how these rules are implemented remain rare. Some theories remain distant or formalistic, and others crudely portray global norms as filling essentially “empty spaces” in poor and middle-income countries. In contrast, the substantive theory of transnational governance developed here makes claims about the modal consequences of transnational rules, their intersections with existing forms of domestic governance, and some ways in which the content of rules matters. 

Lecture II (16 May): Rethinking Transnational Governance: Private Rules, Public Law, and Possibilities for Reform

This presentation will focus on the normative implications of Bartley’s research on transnational private regulation. For the past two decades, transnational governance has mostly meant voluntary subscription to privately developed global standards. But as the limits of this approach have become clearer, new models have emerged that seek in various ways to harden soft commitments. In the governance of land and labor, we can see several emerging approaches, including a new transnational timber legality regime and a turn toward binding agreements and domestic law in pursuit of decent work in the global factory. The presentation will identify the processes behind these reforms and argue for a style of “place-conscious” transnational governance that re-centers the state while still using global production networks as infrastructures for enforcement.  

Lecture III (May 30): Transnational Corporations and Global Governance 

This presentation will look back at how large corporations have shaped global governance in the past 70 years and forward to an agenda for studying their influence in the coming decades. Social scientists have portrayed multinational/transnational corporations as either sponsors, inhibitors, or providers of global/transnational governance – that is, as sponsors of neoliberal governance architectures; inhibitors of enforceable labor, environmental, or consumer safety standards; or direct providers of governance through private and voluntary initiatives. Finding ways to study the co-existence and intertwining of these roles, rather than studying them in isolation, is crucial for explaining the global governance of the past several decades. It may shed light on the future of global governance in an era that appears headed for disintegration. 

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