Voluntary “multi-stakeholder” programs have been a prominent feature of the corporate responsibility landscape for more than a decade. Launched by companies, industry groups, NGOs, governments and international organizations, programs like the UN Global Compact, the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights, and the Fair Labor Association, bring together diverse actors to tackle common problems on the corporate responsibility agenda: human rights, labor standards, environmental standards, and transparency. Many of these pioneering efforts established best practices for subsequent multi-stakeholder collaborations.
But as the corporate responsibility field matures, many of these multi-stakeholder programs are struggling to remain relevant. Initial successes have been followed by substantial challenges. Stakeholders are questioning programs over the scope of their mandates, participation levels, and accountability and governance mechanisms. Some multi-stakeholder efforts face credibility and sustainability concerns with the potential to scuttle the programs altogether.