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TBGI Working Paper 37

Interactive Strategies for Advancing Marginalized Actors in Transnational Governance Contests: Labour and the Making of ISO 26000

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Stepan Wood

November 2018

Abstract

This chapter explores the role of organized labour in drafting the ISO 26000 guidance standard on social responsibility (SR) as a case study of the circumstances in which weaker actors can take advantage of transnational business governance interactions (TBGIs) to achieve regulatory outcomes that advance their interests. Organized labour initially opposed the development of an ISO standard on SR and was vastly outnumbered when it joined this project in a defensive posture. Yet it achieved remarkably wide and strong protection for workers in ISO 26000 compared to other leading SR initiatives. Integrating theories of legitimation and regulatory enrolment, I theorize regulator-audience relationships and the circumstances in which one can expect a regulator to acquiesce to a particular audience’s legitimation demands. I argue that organized labour was unlikely on its own to secure ISO’s acquiescence to its legitimation demands, but it succeeded by both proactively leveraging and passively coasting upon the delicate relationship between a transnational regulator that lacked legitimacy and other regulatory resources—ISO—and another actor—the International Labour Organization (ILO)—that could supply those resources. I theorize a triadic strategy in which a regulatory underdog exploits legitimation differentials between a legitimacy-poor regulator and a legitimacy-rich booster to advance its interests, and the booster is doubly enrolled by the regulator (to enhance the regulator’s legitimacy) and the underdog (to boost the underdog’s effectiveness).

Keywords

ISO 26000, International Organization for Standardization, International Labour Organization, organized labour, legitimation, enrolment