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.
When it comes to doing what is morally right, there are some things that are best not left to the market, writes Martijn Boersma, lecturer in the UTS Management Discipline Group.
Last week, CNBC reported that a Goldman Sachs analyst wrote in a note to clients: “Is curing patients a sustainable business model?” The argument he allegedly put forward was that healing people with a one-shot cure does not bring in the same revenue stream that chronic therapies do and is therefore bad for business in the long run.
My latest research finds that effective approaches to child labour in global supply chains are characterised by companies engaging with a broad range of stakeholders, taking a contextual and holistic approach by considering local circumstances and broader human rights, and by focusing on prevention and remediation. By shifting from code of conduct and auditing based approaches towards stakeholder collaboration and due diligence, companies are moving away from reactive and paternalistic approaches to child labour and instead increasingly adopt proactive and pluralistic strategies. The influence of the UNGPs has the potential to ameliorate some the tensions in multi-stakeholder partnerships by requiring companies to be first movers and using this advantage to include stakeholders rather than exclude them in developing CSR strategies. While these developments can help to elevate child labourers from latent and discretionary stakeholders to expectant and dependent stakeholders, they continue to rely on CSOs to add weight to their claims.
A Senate inquiry has revealed that wage theft and underpayment are so prevalent in some industries that they have become the norm. Around 79% of hospitality employers in Victoria, for instance, did not comply with the national award wage system between 2013 and 2016.
Regulators and unions don’t have the resources to combat this issue, and so we need another method to tackle wage exploitation. One way is to introduce a multi-stakeholder certification scheme, using market forces to reward companies that have committed to fair working conditions and punish those that don’t.
Australian companies will soon be publishing financial results, as well as information about sustainability efforts. Corporate social responsibility of the big four banks – Australia and New Zealand Banking Group (ANZ), Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA), National Australia Bank (NAB) and Westpac is a continuing topic of debate following recent scandals and reports of unsustainable activities. Yet according to ANZ chairman, David Gonski, Australians ought to “stop bashing the banks” for being large and profitable. This comment should put civil society on guard.