Social and environmental standards for the world economy

Social and environmental standards for the world economy are an essential prerequisite of sustain-able development. Shaping foreign trade, investments and financial flows on the basis of such criteria is a critical challenge for effective global governance.

Project Lead:
Thomas Fues
Negi, Archna (Jawaharlal Nehru University/Delhi)
Pérez Pineda, Jorge (Instituto Mora/Mexico)

Time frame:
2015 - 2017 / completed

Project description

Conceptual framework

Social and environmental standards for the world economy are an essential prerequisite of sustain-able development. Shaping foreign trade, investments and financial flows on the basis of such criteria is a critical challenge for effective global governance. In this, many stakeholders have a role to play. International organizations and national governments are involved in establishing frameworks and platforms, such as the United Nations Global Compact, the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) or the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises. The private sector engages in corporate social responsibility (CSR) along international value chains and promotes voluntary efforts, e.g. the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) or the Equator Principles. The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) is a key driver in the evolution of business norms. Civil society groups keep a watchful eye on the performance of public and corporate actors and often join multi-stakeholder approaches for sustainable development, such as ISO 26.000 on social responsibility.

However, social and environmental standards are also the subject of intense controversy in international relations. Some suspect that sustainability criteria are nothing more than a disguise for protectionism, meant to maintain the economic dominance of industrialised countries. Developing countries, it is sometimes claimed, should be free to use their comparative advantage in low-cost labour and abundant natural resources without constraints in order to enhance growth and employment. Further, it is often questioned whether the processes of international standard-setting are truly inclusive of developing country concerns.

Purpose of the research project

This first MGG alumni research project sets out to analyse the relevance of social and environmental standards in the context of global sustainable development. It aims to take stock of existing initiatives and to explore promising new solutions at the national, regional or international level. A particular focus will be put on the different, sometimes conflicting, perspectives of developing and high-income countries and on the search for common ground. The research project is part of the programme “Managing Global Governance”, funded and commissioned by the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ).

Intended Output

The collective research effort aims for a peer-reviewed publication by an international publishing house. At this stage, funding is only secured for the first half of 2015. We are confident to receive extended funding until the end of 2016. During the duration of the project, we would also like to generate short policy papers and engage in dialogue with representatives from government, business and civil society.

Workshop in Bonn

Selected alumni will be invited to discuss the proposals at a workshop at DIE, Bonn, 5 to 7 May 2015.

Contact persons

For more information please contact Johannes Blankenbach.

Current Publications

Freshwater as a global commons: international governance and the role of Germany

Herrfahrdt-Pähle, Elke / Waltina Scheumann / Annabelle Houdret / Ines Dombrowsky
Discussion Paper 15/2019

Why Europa and Africa should discuss about sustainable societal models

Hackenesch, Christine / Julia Leininger
The Current Column of 19 November 2019

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