Skip to main content Accessibility help

Global Policies and Local Practice: Loose and Tight Couplings in Multi-Stakeholder Initiatives

  • Andreas Rasche (a1)

This paper extends scholarship on multi-stakeholder initiatives (MSIs) in the context of corporate social responsibility in three ways. First, I outline a framework to analyze the strength of couplings between actors participating in MSIs. Characterizing an MSI as consisting of numerous local networks that are embedded in a wider global network, I argue that tighter couplings (within local networks) and looser couplings (between local networks) coexist. Second, I suggest that this coexistence of couplings enables MSIs to generate policy outcomes which address the conditions of a transnational regulatory context. I argue that MSIs’ way of organizing enables them to cope with three challenges: the stability, flexibility, and legitimacy of governance. Reflecting on these challenges, the article identifies a number of problems related to MSIs’ role in transnational governance. Third, I discuss the UN Global Compact as an illustrative case and examine problems and opportunities related to its stability, flexibility, and legitimacy.

Hide All
Abbott, K.W., & Snidal, D. 2000. Hard and soft law in international governance. International Organization 54: 421–56.
Aguilera, R.V., Rupp, D.E., Williams, C.A., & Ganapathi, J., 2007. Putting the S back in corporate social responsibility: A multilevel theory of social change in organizations. Academy of Management Review, 32: 836–63.
Aldrich, H.E. Organiztion evolving. London: Sage.
Baccaro, L., & Mele, V. 2011. For lack of anything better? International organizations and global corporate codes. Public Administration, 89: 451–70.
Beekun, R.I., & Glick, W.H. 2001. Organization structure from a loose coupling perspective: A multidimensional approach. Decision Sciences, 32: 227–50.
Benner, T., Reinicke, W.H., & Witte, J.M. 2003. Global public policy networks. Brookings Review, 21(2): 1824.
Bernstein, S., & Cashore, B. 2007. Can non-state global governance be legitimate? An analytical framework. Regulation & Governance, 1: 347–71.
Black, J. 2008. Constructing and contesting legitimacy and accountability in polycentric regulatory regimes. Regulation & Governance, 2: 137–64.
Bled, A.J. 2010. Technological choices in international environmental negotiations: An actor-network analysis. Business & Society, 49: 570–90.
Boström, M. 2011. The problematic social dimension of sustainable development: The case of the Forest Stewardship Council. International Journal of Sustainable Development & World Ecology, 19: 315.
Carroll, A.B. 1979. A three-dimensional conceptual model of corporate performance. Academy of Management Review, 4: 497505.
Cashore, B. 2002. Legitimacy and the privatization of environmental governance: How non-state market-driven (NSMD) governance systems gain rule, making authority. Governance, 15: 503–29.
Cohen, J. 1997. Deliberation and democratic legitimacy. In Bohman, J. & Rehg, W. (Eds.), Deliberative democracy: Essays on reason and politics: 6792. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.
Cohen, J., & Rogers, J. 1998. Secondary assocations and democratic governance. In Wright, E.O. (Ed.), Associations and democracy: 798. London: Verso.
Cutler, A.C. 2001. Critical reflections on the Westphalian assumptions of international law and organization: A crisis of legitimacy. Review of International Studies, 27: 133–50.
Dahan, N., Doh, J. & Guay, T. 2006. The role of multinational corporations in transnational institution building: A policy network perspective. Human Relations, 59: 15711600.
Daskalaki, M. 2010. Building “bonds” and “bridges”: Linking tie evolution and network identity in the creative industries. Organization Studies, 31: 1649–66.
Detomasi, D. 2007. The multinational corporation and global governance: Modelling global public policy networks. Journal of Business Ethics, 71: 321–34.
Deva, S. 2006. Global Compact: A critique of the UN’s “public-private” partnership for promoting corporate citizenship. Syracuse Journal of International Law and Communication, 34: 107–51.
Dingwerth, K. 2008. North-South parity in global governance: The affirmative procedures of the Forest Stewardship Council. Global Governance, 14: 5371.
Doh, J.P. 2005. Offshore outsourcing: Implications for international business and strategic management theory and practice. Journal of Management Studies, 42: 695704.
Dryzek, J.S. 1999. Transnational democracy. Journal of Political Philosophy, 7: 3051.
Etzion, D., & Ferraro, F. 2010. The role of analogy in the institutionalization of sustainability reporting. Organization Science, 21: 10921107.
Falk, R. 2002. Revisiting Westphalia, discovering post-Westphalia. The Journal of Ethics, 6: 311–52.
Faulkner, R.R., & Anderson, A.B. 1987. Short-term projects and emergent careers: Evidence from Hollywood. American Journal of Sociology, 92: 879909.
Firestone, W.A. 1985. The study of loose coupling: Problems, progress and prospects. Research in the Sociology of Education and Socialization, 5: 330.
Foucault, M. 1991. Governmentality. In Burchell, G., Gordon, C., & Murphy, D. (Eds.), The Foucault effect: Studies in governmentality: 87104. London: Harvester.
Fransen, L.W., & Kolk, A. 2007. Global rule-setting for business: A critical analysis of multi-stakeholder standards Organization: 14: 667–84
Friedkin, N.E. 1998. A structural theory of social influence. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
FSC Watch 2007. FSC in Russia: “Sustainable forest management” or simply money and politics? Retrieved 16th July 2011 from
Fung, A. 2003. Deliberative democracy and international labor standards. Governance, 16: 5171.
Fussler, C. 2010. “Caring for climate”: The business leadership platform. In Rasche, A., & Kell, G. (Eds.), The United Nations Global Compact: Achievements, trends and challenges: 80100. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Giddens, A. 2009. The politics of climate change. Cambridge: Polity.
Gilbert, D.U. 2010. The United Nations Global Compact as a network of networks. In Rasche, A., & Kell, G. (Eds.), The United Nations Global Compact: Achievements, trends and challenges: 340–54. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Gilbert, D.U., Rasche, A., & Waddock, S. 2011. Accountability in a global economy: The emergence of international accountability standards. Business Ethics Quarterly, 21: 2344.
Global Reporting Initiative 2001. GRI network structure. Retrieved 28 June 2011 from
Global Water Partnership 2009. Strategy: 2009-2013. Stockholm: Global Water Partnership.
Granovetter, M. 1973. The strength of weak ties. American Journal of Sociology, 78: 1360–80.
Gulbrandsen, L.H. 2012. Transnational environmental governance: The emergence and effects of the certification of forests and fisheries. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.
Hansen, M.T. 2002. Knowledge networks: Explaining effective knowledge sharing in multiunit companies. Organization Science, 13: 232–48.
Haufler, V. 2010. Disclosure as governance: The Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative and resource management in the developing world. Global Environmental Politics, 10: 5373.
Helmchen, C. 2010. Running a Global Compact local network: Insights from the experience in Germany. In Rasche, A., & Kell, G. (Eds.), The United Nations Global Compact: Achievements, trends and challenges: 355–69. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Hemmati, M. 2002. Multi-stakeholder processes for governance and sustainability. London: Earthscan.
Jones, C., & Volpe, E.H. 2011. Organizational identification: Extending our understanding of social identities through social networks. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 32: 413–34.
Kaplan, R.E. 1982. Intervention in a loosely organized system: An encounter with non-being. Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, 18: 415–32.
Karmann, M., & Smith, A. 2009. FSC reflected in scientific and professional literature: Literature study on the outcomes and impacts of FSC certification. Bonn: Forest Stewardship Council.
Kell, G., & Levin, D. 2003. The Global Compact network: An historic experiment in learning and action. Business & Society Review, 108: 151–81.
King, D. 2011. The challenge of climate change. In Held, D., Hervey, A. & Theros, M. (Eds.), The governance of climate change: Science, economics, politics and ethics: 1330. Cambridge: Polity.
Kirton, J.J., & Trebilcock, M.J. 2004. Introduction: Hard choices and soft law in sustainable global governance. In Kirton, J.J., & Trebilcok, M.J. (Eds.), Hard choices, soft law: Voluntary standards in global trade, environment and social governance: 329. Aldershot: Ashgate.
Kobrin, S.J. 2009. Private political authority and public responsibility: Transnational politics, transnational firms, and human rights. Business Ethics Quarterly, 19: 349–74.
Koenig-Archibugi, M. 2004. Transnational corporations and public accountability. Government and Opposition, 39: 234–59.
Kolstad, I., & Wiig, A. 2009. Is transparency the key to reducing corruption in resourcerich countries? World Development, 37: 521–32.
Kourula, A., & Laasonen, S. 2010. Nongovernmental organizations in business and society, management, and international business research: Review and implications from 1998 to 2007. Business & Society, 49: 3567.
Luceaa, R. 2010. How we see them versus how they see themselves: A cognitive perspective of firm-NGO relationships. Business & Society, 49: 116–39.
Luke, R.D., Begun, J.W., & Pointer, D.D. 1989. Quasi firms: Strategic interorganizational forms in the health care industry. Academy of Management Review, 14: 919.
Luo, Y. 2005. How important are shared perceptions of procedural justice in cooperative alliances? Academy of Management Journal, 48: 695709.
March, J.G. 1987. Ambiguity and accounting: The elusive link between information and decision making. Accounting, Organizations & Society, 12: 153–68.
March, J.G., & Olsen, J.P. 1976. Ambiguity and choice in organizations. Bergen: Universitetsforlaget.
March, J.G., & Olsen, J.P. 2009. The logic of appropriateness. ARENA Center for European Studies Working Paper Series No. 04/09: University of Oslo.
McWilliams, A., Siegel, D.S., & Wright, P.M. 2006. Corporate social responsibility: Strategic implications. Journal of Management Studies, 43: 118.
Mena, S., & Palazzo, G. 2010. Input and output legitimacies in multi-stakeholder initiatives. Paper presented at the Academy of Management Annual Meeting, Montreal.
Messnerh, M. 2009. The limits of accountability. Accounting, Organizations & Society, 34: 918–38.
Meyer, J.W., & Rowan, B. 1977. Institutionalized organizations: Formal structure as myth and ceremony. American Journal of Sociology, 83: 340–63.
Miller, J.G. 1978. Living systems. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Mörth, U. 2004. Introduction. In Mörth, U. (Ed.), Soft law in governance and regulation: An interdisciplinary analysis: 110. Cheltenhamt: Edward Elgar.
Ocheje, P.D. 2006. The Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI): Voluntary codes of conduct, poverty and accountability in Africa. Journal of Sustainable Development in Africa, 8: 222–39.
Oliver, C. 1991. Strategic responses to institutional processes. Academy of Management Review, 16: 145–79.
O’Rourke, D. 2006. Multi-stakeholder regulation: Privatizing or socializing global labor standards?. World Development, 34: 899918.
Orton, J.D., & Weick, K.E. 1988. Toward a theory of the loosely coupled system. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan. Working Paper No. 586.
Orton, J.D., & Weick, K.E. 1990. Loosely coupled systems: A reconceptualization. Academy of Management Review, 15: 203–23.
Palazzo, G., & Scherer, A.G. 2006. Corporate legitimacy as deliberation: A communicative framework. Journal of Business Ethics, 66: 7188.
Portes, A. 2000. The two meanings of social capital. Sociological Forum, 15: 112.
Publish What You Pay 2009. Niger: Civil society suspends participation in national EITI process. Retrived on 15 July 2009 from
Putman, R. 1993. Making democracy work. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.
Rasche, A. 2009a. “A necessary supplement”: What the United Nations Global Compact is and is not. Business & Society, 48: 511–37.
Rasche, A. 2009b. Toward a model to compare and analyze accountability standards: The case of the UN Global Compact. Corporate Social Responsibility and Environmental Management, 16: 192205.
Rasche, A., & Kell, G. 2010. The UN Global Compact: Achievements, trends and challenges. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Risse, T. 2005. Global governance and communicative action. In Held, D., & Koenig-Archibugi, M. (Eds.), Global governance and public accountability: 164–89. Malden, Mass.: Blackwell.
Roloff, J. 2008. Learning from multi-stakeholder networks: Issue-focussed stakeholder management. Journal of Business Ethics, 82: 233–50.
Rosenau, J.N. 1995. Governance in the twenty-first century. Global Governance, 1: 1343.
Rowley, T.J. 1997. Moving beyond dyadic ties: A network theory of stakeholder influences. Academy of Management Review, 22: 887910.
Ruggie, J.G. 2001. The Global Compact as learning network. Global Governance, 7: 371.
Ruggie, J.G. 2002. Trade, sustainability and global governance. Columbia Journal of Environmental Law, 27: 297307.
Ruggie, J.G. 2004. Reconstituting the global public domain: Issues, actors, and practices. European Journal of International Relations, 10: 499531.
Santoro, M.A. 2010. Post-Westphalia and its discontents: Business, globalization, and human rights in political and moral perspective. Business Ethics Quarterly, 20: 285–97.
Scherer, A.G., & Palazzo, G. 2007. Toward a political conception of corporate responsibility: Business and society seen from a Habermasian perspective. Academy of Management Review, 32: 10961120.
Scherer, A.G., & Palazzo, G. 2008. Globalization and corporate social responsibility. In Crane, A., McWilliams, A., Matten, D., Moon, J., & Siegel, D.S. (Eds.), The Oxford handbook of corporate social responsibility: 413–31. Oxford: Oxford University Press
Scherer, A.G., & Palazzo, G. 2011. The new political role of business in a globalized world: A review of a new perspective on CSR and its implications for the firm, governance, and democracy. Journal of Management Studies, 48: 899931.
Scholte, J.A. 2005. Globalization: A critical introduction. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
Sindico, F. 2006. Soft law and the elusive quest for sustainable global governance. Leiden Journal of International Law, 19: 829–46.
Soderströmo, S., & Boström, M. 2010. FSC and the challenging management of a multi-scale and multi-actor system, Paper presented at the International Society for Environmental Epidemiology, Oldenburg and Bremen.
Stigzelius, I., & Mark-Herbert, C. 2009. Tailoring corporate responsibility to suppliers: Managing SA 8000 in Indian garment manufacturing. Scandinavian Journal of Management, 25: 4656.
Suchman, M.C. 1995. Managing legitimacy: Strategic and institutional approaches. Academy of Management Review, 20: 571610.
Swanson, D.L. 1999. Toward an integrative theory of business and society: A research strategy for corporate social performance. Academy of Management Review, 24: 506–21.
Tamm Hallström, K., & Boström, M. 2010. Transnational multi-stakeholder standardization: Organizing fragile non-state authority. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.
Thomas, J. 1984. Some aspects of negotiated order, loose coupling and mesostructure in maximum security prisons. Symbolic Interaction, 7: 213–31.
Thorelli, H.B. 1986. Networks: Between markets and hierarchies. Strategic Management Journal, 7: 3751.
Tichy, N.M., Tushman, M.L., & Fombrun, C. 1979. Social network analysis for organizations. Academy of Management Review, 4: 507–19.
Torre, A., & Gilly, J.-P. 2000. On the analytical dimension of proximity dynamics. Regional Studies, 34: 169–80.
Transparency International. 2011. Transparency International strategy 2015. Berlin: Transparency International.
Tsai, W., & Ghoshal, S. 1998. Social capital and value creation: The role of intrafirm networks. Academy of Management Journal, 41: 464–76.
UN Global Compact. 2007. UN Global Compact annual review 2007. New York: UN Global Compact Office.
UN Global Compact. 2008. UN Global Compact local network report 2008. New York: UN Global Compact Office.
UN Global Compact. 2010a. Caring for climate: The constitution. New York: UN Global Compact Office.
UN Global Compact. 2010b. Caring for climate: Work plan 2010-2012. New York: UN Global Compact Office.
UN Global Compact. 2010c. UN Global Compact local network report 2010. New York: UN Global Compact Office.
UN Global Compact. 2011. UN Global Compact local network report 2011. New York: UN Global Compact Office.
UN Global Compact Nordic Network. 2009. Caring for climate: Nordic best practice. Copenhagen: UN Global Compact Nordic Network/UNDP Nordic Office/Confederation of Danish Industry.
Utting, P. 2002. Regulating business via multi-stakeholder initiatives: A preliminary assessment. In Jenkins, R., Utting, P., & Alva Pino, R. (Eds.), Voluntary approaches to corporate responsibility: Readings and a resource guide: 61130. Geneva: UN Research Institute for Social Development.
Uzzi, B. 1997. Social structure and competition in interfirm networks: The paradox of embeddedness. Administrative Science Quarterly, 42: 3567.
Vogel, D. 2010. The private regulation of global corporate conduct: Achievements and limitations. Business & Society, 49: 6887.
Waddell, S. 2011. Global action networks: Creating our future together. Basingtoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
Waddock, S. 2008a. Building a new institutional infrastructure for corporate responsibility. Academy of Management Perspectives, 22: 87108.
Waddock, S. 2008b. Corporate responsibility/corporate citizenship: The development of a construct. In Scherer, A.G., & Palazzo, G. (Eds.), Handbook of research on global corporate citizenship: 5073. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.
Wallsten, S.J. 2001. An empirical test of geographic knowledge spillovers using geographic information systems and firm-level data. Regional Science and Urban Economics, 31: 571–99.
Weick, K.E. 1976. Educational organizations as loosely coupled systems. Administrative Science Quarterly, 21: 119.
Weick, K.E. 1979. The social psychology of organizing. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Weick, K.E. 2001. Management of organizational change among loosely coupled elements. In Weick, K.E. (Ed.), Making sense of the organization: 380403. Malden, Mass.: Blackwell.
Whelan, N. 2010. Building the United Nations Global Compact local network model: History and highlights. In Rasche, A., & Kell, G. (Eds.), The United Nations Global Compact: Achievements, trends and challenges: 317–39. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Wiener, J. 1999. Globalization and the harmonization of law. London: Pinter.
Williams, T. 2005. Cooperation by design: Structure and cooperation in interorganizational networks. Journal of Business Research, 58: 222–31.
Wood, D.J. 1991. Corporate social performance revisited. Academy of Management Review, 16: 691718.
World Business Council for Sustainable Development. 2009. Thinking globally, acting locally: The regional network. Geneva: World Business Council for Sustainable Development.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Business Ethics Quarterly
  • ISSN: 1052-150X
  • EISSN: 2153-3326
  • URL: /core/journals/business-ethics-quarterly
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *



Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed