Taking Stock of Private Regulation: A New Critical Review

You may not be aware of it, but private regulation – of various forms – is operating across sectors of the global economy, seeking to regulate the ethical and environmental features of products and production process that are at the heart of our globalized world. Fairtrade. Sustainable food, seafood and wood products. Responsible mining. Ethical flowers. Claims that pervade retail shelves are a simple symbol representing complex efforts to use markets to regulate market behaviour.

In a recent paper, Professor Graeme Auld teamed up with Dr. Janina Grabs and Professor Ben Cashore to review several decades of work focused on the rise and consequences of private regulation, and what role public policy ought to play in steering this form of regulatory governance. Their paper is now out in Regulation & Governance. More details on the work are provided below.

Private regulation, public policy, and the perils of adverse ontological selection


What problems can private regulatory governance solve, and what role should public policy play? Despite access to the same empirical evidence, the current scholarship on private governance offers widely divergent answers to these questions. Through a critical review, this paper details five ontologically distinct academic logics – calculated strategic behavior; learning and experimentalist processes; political institutionalism; global value chain and convention theory; and neo‐Gramscian accounts – that offer divergent conclusions based on the particular facets of private governance they illuminate, while ignoring those they obfuscate. In this crowded marketplace of ideas, scholars and practitioners are in danger of adverse ontological selection whereby certain approaches and insights are systematically ignored and certain problem conceptions are prioritized over others. As a corrective, we encourage scholars to make their assumptions explicit, and occasionally switch between logics, to better understand private governance’s problem‐solving potential and its interactions with public policy.

Financial support for this work was provide for Professor Auld through the Faculty of Public Affairs Research Excellence Chair.