Toward “hardened” accountability? Analyzing the European Union's hybrid transnational governance in timber and biofuel supply chains

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The voluntary/mandatory divide is a constant feature of scholarly debates on corporate accountability for sustainability in global supply chains. A widely held assumption is that the addition of state authority to private transnational governance in global supply chains will “harden” accountability and, thus, promote more sustainable production. The state's ability to set legally binding requirements is expected to coerce companies into complying. The hybridization of private and state authority is seen to strengthen good practice in private authority. This empirical study questions these assumptions based on an analysis of two hybrid governance arrangements for sustainability in global supply chains: the EU's Timber Regulation (EUTR) and Renewable Energy Directive (RED). The results demonstrate that both EUTR and EU-RED yield sector wide efforts of compliance and to this extent can be seen as enhancing accountability in the sense of answerability. At the same time, we find that the policies in both cases are not more demanding, nor enforced strictly, the latter putting into question their potential to coerce companies. Further, a “hardening” of accountability is at least obscured as both EUTR and EU-RED have stripped private authority they employ in their hybrid transnational governance from the need to establish legitimacy with a broader audience. This makes legal compliance and cost-effectiveness the core factor for companies’ efforts to demonstrate compliance. Our findings hence question whether the EUTR and EU-RED have led to “hardened” accountability compared to private transnational governance, and ask for an empirical, more nuanced understanding of what there is to gain or lose from hybridizing private and state authority in transnational governance.

Original languageEnglish
JournalRegulation & Governance
Issue number1
Pages (from-to)115-132
Number of pages18
Publication statusPublished - 01.2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We are deeply grateful for the invaluable insights provided by the interviewees and the financial support of the German Research Foundation in the project “Discursive fragmentation of the international forest regime complex” (PAK 813) and the Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung (individual PhD scholarship). We further wish to thank the participants of the Regulatory Governance Conference 2018, especially Stepan Wood, and the four anonymous reviewers for their valuable comments that highly improved the manuscript.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 John Wiley & Sons Australia, Ltd