Multistakeholder initiatives are often heralded as a solution to many social and environmental issues. Yet, due to their composition, these initiatives are not without tensions and challenges. This paper examines which factors determine the (il)legitimacy of multistakeholder initiatives in the context of efforts to remediate child labor.
Child labor in global supply chains is increasingly addressed through multistakeholder initiatives. However, the participation of stakeholders with distinct views and interests can generate tensions. Based on interviews with civil society actors, this research finds that tensions exist between the normative‐ethical and political‐strategic dimensions of multistakeholder initiatives, which are manifest in the existence of international and national norms and their contextual application, in definitions of child labor, risk and responsibility, and in doubts about corporate incentives to join multistakeholder initiatives. In addition, tensions exist concerning the effectiveness of supply chain auditing, enabling broader labor rights as a means to remediate child labor, and whether standards need to be mandatory or self‐regulation suffices. The success of collaboration depends on the effective navigation of these tensions. Failure to do so can undermine the legitimacy of multistakeholder initiatives from the perspective of civil society actors. The research finds that due diligence, in the shape of human rights risk assessments, is not subject to normative‐ethical/political‐strategic tensions, and can play a key role in the success of multistakeholder initiatives and the fight against child labor.