Journal of Business Ethics

, Volume 128, Issue 3, pp 469–493 | Cite as

The Politics of Multi-Stakeholder Initiatives: The Crisis of the Forest Stewardship Council

  • Sandra Moog
  • André Spicer
  • Steffen Böhm


Multi-stakeholder initiatives (MSIs) have become a vital part of the organizational landscape for corporate social responsibility. Recent debates have explored whether these initiatives represent opportunities for the “democratization” of transnational corporations, facilitating civic participation in the extension of corporate responsibility, or whether they constitute new arenas for the expansion of corporate influence and the private capture of regulatory power. In this article, we explore the political dynamics of these new governance initiatives by presenting an in-depth case study of an organization often heralded as a model MSI: the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). An effort to address global deforestation in the wake of failed efforts to agree a multilateral convention on forests at the Rio Summit (UNCED) in 1992, the FSC was launched in 1993 as a non-state regulatory experiment: a transnational MSI, administering a global eco-labeling scheme for timber and forest products. We trace the scheme’s evolution over the past two decades, showing that while the FSC has successfully facilitated multi-sectoral determination of new standards for forestry, it has nevertheless failed to transform commercial forestry practices or stem the tide of tropical deforestation. Applying a neo-Gramscian analysis to the organizational evolution of the FSC, we examine how broader market forces and resource imbalances between non-governmental and market actors can serve to limit the effectiveness of MSIs in the current neo-liberal environment. This presents dilemmas for NGOs which can lead to their defection, ultimately undermining the organizational legitimacy of MSIs.


CSR Civic regulation Deliberative democracy Eco-labeling Environment Forests Global governance Gramsci Multi-stakeholder initiatives Non-governmental organizations Transnational politics 



The authors would like to thank Michael Burawoy, Marcus Colchester, Jane Hindley, David Levy, Birke Otto, and Saskia Ozinga for their engagement with earlier versions of this article. We thank Peter Gerhardt, Jutta Kill, László Maráz, Hermann Edelmann, Chris Lang, and other members of the Forest Movement Europe for sharing their perspectives and their archives, and for allowing Sandra Moog to attend various network meetings and strategy sessions over the years. We are also very grateful to three anonymous reviewers for their suggestions, which significantly improved the content and coherence of this article.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Essex Business SchoolUniversity of EssexColchesterUK
  2. 2.Cass Business SchoolCity University LondonLondonUK

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