160.4 The limits of multi-stakeholder governance: The crisis of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)

Wednesday, August 1, 2012: 3:15 PM
Faculty of Economics, TBA
Oral Presentation
Sandra MOOG , Management, Essex Business School, University of Essex, Colchester, United Kingdom
Steffen BOEHM , Management, Essex Business School, University of Essex, Colchester, United Kingdom
Andre SPICER , Department of Management, Cass Business School, City University , London, United Kingdom
The FSC is a transnational non-profit organisation that runs a globally recognized timber and forest products certification and eco-labelling scheme. Governed by a broadly representative multi-sectoral General Assembly, the FSC has frequently been cited as an exemplary institution, illustrating, 1) the promise of multi-stakeholder regulatory institutions as new forms of global environmental governance, and, 2) the collaboration of NGOs and progressive corporations in multi-sectoral, solutions-oriented political processes. However, the FSC has been fraught with problems in recent years. It has faced serious challenges in terms of its ongoing capacity to serve as an inclusive arena for dialogue and regulatory innovation.

Our paper highlights the inherent limitations of multi-stakeholder governance within the context of contemporary, post-Rio “liberal environmentalism” (Bernstein 2001; Park et al., 2008). The FSC, we argue, has found it exceedingly difficult to achieve its original founding mandate: to set a global benchmark for sustainable management, especially in crucial biodiversity hotspots in the tropics. Tracing the evolution of the scheme, we show that, from the moment the FSC was launched as a new standard-setting and labelling regime, it found itself in a race for recognition and credibility. Business groups from the forestry, wood products and paper and pulp industry in various countries were quick to respond to what they perceived as a real threat to their independence and operating procedures by setting up their own competing independent labelling schemes. The competitive pressures that this unleashed for the FSC have limited possibilities for strict sustainability standards, and the scope for debate within the organisations’ General Assembly. As a result, many NGOs have begun to withdraw their support from the scheme, and some of the FSC’s staunchest NGO supporters now find themselves engaged in intense public debate and extensive defence of their own continued participation.