Journal of Business Ethics

, Volume 122, Issue 2, pp 307–320 | Cite as

Addressing the Global Sustainability Challenge: The Potential and Pitfalls of Private Governance from the Perspective of Human Capabilities

  • Agni KalfagianniEmail author


Contemporary global politics is characterized by an increasing trend toward experimental forms of governance, with an emphasis on private governance. A plurality of private standards, codes of conduct and quality assurance schemes currently developed particularly, though not exclusively, by TNCs replace traditional intergovernmental regimes in addressing profound global environmental and socio-economic challenges ranging from forest deforestation, fisheries depletion, climate change, to labor and human rights concerns. While this trend has produced a heated debate in science and politics, surprisingly little attention has been paid on the effects of private governance on questions of distribution and justice. This is highly problematic. At the beginning of the twenty-first century global inequalities are greater than ever before, while rapid economic, social, political, and environmental changes threaten to further derail sustainable development and humanitarian objectives. If private governance creates or intensifies some of the pressing global inequalities (e.g., food security), and alleviates others (e.g., environmental degradation), from a business ethics perspective, we need to know which aspects need to be strengthened and where appropriate interventions are necessary and desirable. This paper proposes a framework to examine and classify the distributive outcomes of private governance institutions through the lenses of one particular approach to distributive justice, the capability approach. Empirically, it focuses on agrifood one area where the controversy regarding the distributive concerns of private governance are particularly pronounced.


Agrifood Capabilities approach Governance Private standards Sustainability 



The author would like to thank the participants of the international workshop “Governing Sustainable Agriculture through Multistakeholder Initiatives: Participation, Knowledge and Networks in Action,” Montpellier (France), 12–14 December 2012, and two anonymous reviewers for insightful comments and suggestions.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Environmental Policy AnalysisInstitute for Environmental Studies, VU University AmsterdamAmsterdamThe Netherlands

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