Modern governance, from local to global levels, relies increasingly on private governance arrangements. The World Wide Web functions on the basis of technical standards devised by the private Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers. Certification schemes for legally mined diamonds—such as the Kimberley Process initiated by the activists of Global Witness and the world’s largest diamond seller De Beers—aim to cut off rebel groups in countries such as Sierra Leone from their core source of income. Mediation and new standards by the transnational World Commission on Dams, strive to put an end to decades of contestation between proponents and opponents of large dams that prevent even reasonable projects from being implemented.
A key contemporary focus of private rule-setting activities is sustainability. Private actors increasingly design, implement and monitor rules and standards that guide and prescribe environmentally and socially responsible behavior in global governance. Even though the involvement of private actors in global politics is not a new phenomenon, the creation of cooperative arrangements in the form of organizations that lead to private regulation - thus complementing traditional ways of political influence- is relatively novel. The proliferation of such private governance organizations whose primary goal is to devise transnational rules for sustainability is at the centre of this research project. Specifically, we are interested in two related questions: How effective are private rule-setting organizations in fostering the environmental and social sustainability benefits they claim to provide? And second, what broader political and economic effects do they have as they gain prominence in global sustainability governance? The project pursues these questions by analyzing a number of hypotheses derived from major theoretical debates within International Relations, in particular from regime theory, global governance studies, and organizational theory. Its research design adopts a comparative case-study format aiming to identify what explains variation in performance and broader effects across and within private transnational rule-setting organizations operating in different areas of sustainability governance. Quantitative and qualitative research methods guide the analysis of this highly relevant and currently understudied issue of private governance.