In my current research, I examine the development and impacts of transnational private governance of global production processes and supply chains, and the interactions between transnational private governance and international and domestic public policy. Mresearch combines insights from international relations, political economy, and public policy. Focusing mainly on environmental and natural resources policy and governance, current areas of interest include fisheries, sustainable finance, climate change, (renewable) energy, biofuels, e-waste, organic agriculture, forestry, and sustainable/fair trade.


Stefan Renckens. 2020. Private Governance and Public Authority. Regulating Sustainability in a Global Economy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

At a time of significant concerns about the sustainability of the global economy, businesses are eager to display their responsible corporate practices. While rulemaking for these practices was once the prerogative of states, businesses and civil society actors are increasingly engaged in creating private rulemaking instruments, such as eco-labeling and certification schemes, to govern corporate behavior. When does a public authority intervene in such private governance and reassert the primacy of public policy? Private Governance and Public Authority develops a new theory of public-private regulatory interactions and argues that when and how a public authority intervenes in private governance depends on the economic benefits to domestic producers that such intervention generates and the degree of fragmentation of private governance schemes. Drawing on European Union policymaking on organic agriculture, biofuels, fisheries, and fair trade, the book exposes the political-economic conflicts between private and public rule makers and the strategic nature of regulating sustainability in a global economy.


While scholars have researched transnational private governance for over two decades, we still know little about the specific political activities in which private rule-making schemes engage. This article addresses this topic by bringing together hitherto separate literatures on private governance and interest groups. I argue that examining private governance’s instrumental power, and interest representation and lobbying specifically, complements the literature’s dominant focus on the structural and discursive power of private governance. The article makes three contributions. First, it conceptualizes private governance schemes as interest organizations by analyzing similarities and differences with traditional interest groups. Second, the article examines instrumental power empirically by assessing the participation of 48 transnational private governance schemes in the European Union’s lobby register and variation among private governance schemes in this respect. Finally, the article contributes to developing a new research agenda to continue bridging the gap between the private governance and interest group literatures.

Transnational private governance schemes, like other global rule-making arenas, are confronted with the challenges of North-South imbalances. Through their standards and certification processes, private governance schemes aim to control access to the market for sustainably certified products and may consequently generate or perpetuate global inequalities. Are these imbalances inevitable and likely to persist? This article explores North-South imbalances in the operations of the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), a leading standard-setting and certification scheme for capture fisheries. We examine whether the scheme’s Northern-dominated origins reflect pre-existing structural imbalances, persist through path dependent processes, or can be addressed by scheme adaptations. Our analysis uses data on the 312 fisheries that have engaged with the MSC from 1999 to 2015. We find evidence that imbalances in the MSC reflect corporate power and structures of power in the global fisheries sector, but that path dependence has also elevated the power of unexpected countries. Adaptations to date have been less successful as a means to lessen Northern dominance.

Renckens, Stefan, Grace Skogstad and Matthieu Mondou. 2017. When Normative and Market Power Interact: The European Union and Global Biofuels Governance. Journal of Common Market Studies 55(6): 1432–1448.

Drawing on the literature on the market and normative power of the EU, we document and explain the limited success of the EU in transferring its environmental standards with respect to sustainable biofuels governance to the world’s two largest biofuels producers – the US and Brazil – and to two international standard setting organizations, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and the Global Bioenergy Partnership (GBEP). Our explanation highlights four factors: first, the extent to which EU strategies to strengthen its market power can undermine its normative power; second, the limits to EU policy influence posed by other actors’ use of their own market and normative power resources; third, the diminished influence of a late policy-mover; and fourth, the difficulty of establishing normative leadership in a policy field subject to epistemic contestation.

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Auld, Graeme, and Stefan Renckens. 2017. Rule-Making Feedbacks through Intermediation and Evaluation in Transnational Private Governance. The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 670(1): 93-111.

Feedback from rule-making is an important facet of regulatory processes. By examining the operations of the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), a transnational private certification program, we explore two types of feedback that operate within and outside R-I-T relationships and potentially influence agenda-setting and rule-reformulation. Within R-I-T relationships, intermediation feedback results from the knowledge that intermediaries acquire as they translate rules into practical forms applicable to specific regulatory targets. Intermediaries may communicate this knowledge to the regulator to strategically inform rule-reformulation. But the regulator may also have access to this information if transparency obligations come with the responsibility of performing intermediation functions. Outside R-I-T relationships, evaluation feedback involves external evaluative audiences—actors outside the regulatory process that hold an interest in evaluating and influencing that process. Transparency about R-I-T relationships should strengthen this feedback, though lack of information will not prevent external evaluators from rendering judgments and seeking to influence rule-reformulation.

Auld, Graeme, Stefan Renckens and Benjamin Cashore. 2015. Transnational Private Governance between the Logics of Empowerment and Control. Regulation & Governance 9(2): 108-124.

Transnational private governance initiatives that address problems of social and environmental concern now pervade many sectors. In tackling distinct substantive problems, these programs have, however, prioritized different problem-oriented logics in their institutionalized rules and procedures. One is a “logic of control” that focuses on ameliorating environmental and social externalities by establishing strict and enforceable rules; another is a “logic of empowerment” that concentrates on remedying the exclusion of marginalized actors in the global economy. Examining certification programs in the areas of fair trade, organic agriculture, fisheries, and forest management, we assess the evolutionary effects of programs prioritizing one logic and then having to accommodate the other. The challenges programs face when balancing between the two logics, we argue, elucidate specific distributional consequences for wealth, power, and regulatory capabilities that private governance programs seek to overcome.

Renckens, Stefan. 2015. The Basel Convention, US Politics, and the Emergence of Non-State E-Waste Recycling Certification. International Environmental Agreements 15(2): 141-158.

While many authors have argued that domestic regulatory gaps as well as a lack of international cooperation can at least partly explain the emergence of non-state regulation, this article will focus on an underexplored pathway of emergence linking international, domestic, and non-state regulation. I will argue that even in the presence of a widely supported international agreement, a non-ratifying country can provide the setting for the emergence of non-state certification programs. This will happen when  significant domestic legislation on the topics covered by the agreement is absent, and non-state actors are able to act as institutional entrepreneurs with an interest in implementing key elements of this agreement. By tracing the development of certification programs for the electronic waste (e-waste) recycling industry, I will show why the US, more than other countries, provided an enabling environment for the emergence of non-state e-waste recycling certification. The US’s failure to ratify the Basel Convention on transboundary movements of hazardous wastes and an overall lack of domestic legislation on e-waste exports created regulatory gaps that non-state actors were able to fill. The main global watchdog of the Convention—the US-based Basel Action Network—used certification as a forum-shifting strategy to implement key parts of the Convention in the US. Finally, the article will also show that conflicting interests and divergent perspectives on the legitimacy of the Convention and its rules have led to the development of a competing industry-supported certification program.

Kanie, Norichika, Peter M. Haas, Steinar Andresen, Graeme Auld, Benjamin Cashore, Pamela S. Chasek, Jose A. Puppim de Oliveira, Stefan Renckens, Olav Schram Stokke, Casey Stevens, Stacy D. VanDeveer and Masahiko Iguchi. 2013. Green Pluralism. Lessons for Improved Environmental Governance in the 21st Century Environment 55(5): 14-30.

The evolving and expanding nature of our environmental problems calls for a new way of handling these challenges. But our global governing institutions, which address these environmental challenges remain based on nation-state-oriented designs and processes of international relations established in the last century. Recent major environmental conferences, such as the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference (UNFCCC COP 15), the Commission on Sustainable Development's 19th session, and Rio + 20, all failed to produce widespread agreements, exemplifying global-level stalemate. Environmental institutions need to recognize that sovereign states no longer tackle challenges alone; globalization requires strong cooperation among nation-states and nonstate actors, such as private companies and private environmental standards organizations, environmental groups, and indigenous people, as well as subnational governments such as municipalities and provinces. Recognition of this need was acknowledged in Agenda 21, signed at the first Rio Conference on Environment and Development in 1992. To tackle the challenges that now face us we need to better recognize a post-national-sovereignty order that mirrors the current dynamics of international relations. A key feature of such post-sovereign governance is the emergence of what amounts to a division of labor among governments and nongovernmental actors involved in environmental governance that comprises global green pluralism. 

Auld, Graeme, Cristina Balboa, Laura Bozzi, Benjamin Cashore, and Stefan Renckens, 2010. “Can Technological Innovations Improve Private Regulation in the Global Economy?” Business and Politics 12(3): Article 9.  

Those supplying private regulation in the global economy face two fundamental challenges if they are to ameliorate the problems for which they create these systems: targets must conform to, while demanders must have proof of, regulatory compliance. This paper explores an important area absent from assessments as to whether, when, and how, private regulatory bodies are successful in improving behavior and rewarding compliant firms: the role of technological innovations. Employing an inductive, comparative case study analysis, we offer an analytical framework that distinguishes technological innovations that improve tracking mechanisms from innovations that directly improve on-the-ground performance. We illustrate the utility of the analytical framework through an assessment of technological innovations in shaping “non-state market driven” global certification programs governing forestry, fisheries, coffee, e-waste, and climate.

Renckens, Stefan, 2008. “Yes, We Will! Voluntarism in U.S. E-Waste Governance” Review of European Community and International Environmental Law 17(3): 286-299. 

Electronic waste has recently emerged as an environmental issue of growing concern. This is due to the increasing consumption of electronic devices and a heightened awareness for the potentially detrimental environmental impact of a non-sustainable management of these devices in their end-of-life stage. In this article e-waste governance in the USA will be explored. More specifically, the voluntary collaborative initiatives that are taken at the federal level, in a context where a general regulatory framework is largely absent, will be examined. Such voluntarism is linked to a larger trend towards voluntary action in US environmental governance and to a particular framing of the e-waste problem as a materials management, instead of a waste management, challenge with shared responsibilities for all stakeholders. A critical exploration of the various initiatives will show that the voluntary public–private partnerships on e-waste have only produced limited results so far.

See also:


Auld, Graeme and Stefan Renckens. 2019. “Micro-Level Interactions in the Compliance Processes of Transnational Private Governance: The Market for Marine Stewardship Council Auditors and Assessors”. In Wood, Stepan, Rebecca Schmidt, Kenneth W. Abbott, Burkard Eberlein and Errol Meidinger (eds.), Transnational Business Governance Interactions. Advancing Marginalized Actors and Enhancing Regulatory Quality. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar: 123-140.

Transnational private governance has emerged in multiple issue areas to promote responsible business practices. While most studies assess its rule-setting function, much less research has been done on the compliance-assessment function. This chapter examines the various actors that are involved in this process—auditors, individual assessors and, to a lesser extent, accreditors—and their respective interactions. Using the Marine Stewardship Council as an empirical case, the chapter examines the level of competition among accredited auditors and assessors, and the degree of organizational interdependence. It argues that while the number of accredited auditors has increased over time, the degree of competition is rather limited, while auditors are also much less operationally independent than expected due to the mobility of assessors across auditors. As such, this chapter contributes to the TBGI literature by providing a micro-level perspective addressing interactions among governance actors within a transnational private governance regime and their potential influence on regime effectiveness.

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Cashore, Benjamin, Graeme Auld and Stefan Renckens. 2015. “Labeling and Certification”. In Morin, Jean-Frédéric and Amandine Orsini (eds), Essential Concepts of Global Environmental Governance. London/New York: Routledge: 111-112.

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Auld, Graeme, Benjamin Cashore and Stefan Renckens, 2014. “Governance Components in Private Regulation: Implications for Legitimacy, Authority and Effectiveness”. In Kanie, Norichika, Steinar Andresen and Peter M. Haas (eds), Improving Global Environmental Governance: Best Practices for Architecture and Agency. London/New York: Routledge, 152-174.

For over two generations now public policy and international relations (IR) scholars have been attempting to describe and understand the increasing role that non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and civil society have played in not only advocating for public policies through agenda setting and issue framing, but actively participating in rule-making, enforcement, and evaluation. The purpose of this chapter is to shed light on a unique partnership within these broad trends: multi-stakeholder certification initiatives. Referred to by some as “non-state market driven” (NSMD) global governance (Cashore 2002; Cashore et al. 2004; Bernstein and Cashore 2007) these initiatives confront two tasks. First, similar to governments and intergovernmental processes, they follow a cycle from agenda setting / issue framing through to enforcement and evaluation (i.e., governance components). Second, unlike governmental efforts, they must attempt to achieve, rather than maintain, authority and legitimacy to govern. Hence, while they turn to the marketplace to create compliance incentives and gain governing authority, seemingly adopting “business friendly” approaches often championed as alternatives to regulation, their standards and approaches are highly regulatory – i.e., they identify specific rules and practices to which firms must adhere. As a result, any effort to understand the short- and long-term effectiveness of these initiatives must examine the processes by which authority and legitimacy are intertwined with decisions made throughout its policy cycle.
Our chapter focuses on better understanding how the structure of NSMD policy networks affects decisions made at different stages of 
an NSMD system’s policy cycle (i.e. governance components). What is important for our chapter, and in contrast to the influence of traditional public policy networks, is that the exclusion or absence of some actors in the network membership will not only influence agenda setting and issue framing within the network. Decisions at these stages of the policy cycle that are seen as downplaying the interests of excluded members, can lead to the emergence of competing NSMD systems, in which excluded actors become dominant members of the networks affecting the new NSMD system. These dynamics, in turn, affect and shape regulatory decisions at the negotiated settlement (i.e., decision making) stage in each NSMD system over the scope and prescriptiveness of the standards against which firms are certified, as each network acts as a governance arena for the development of rules.

Cashore, Benjamin, Graeme Auld, and Stefan Renckens, 2011. “The Impact of Private, Industry, and Transnational Civil Society Regulation and Their Interaction with Official Regulation” In Parker, Christine and Vibeke Nielsen (eds), Explaining Compliance: Business Responses to Regulation. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar, 343-376.

The purpose of this review is to reflect on what our research on historical and current levels of support for NSMD global governance means for understanding whether, when and how they might be able to ameliorate the problems for which they were created. We focus particularly on those certification programs that have emerged to address some type of globally important environmental or social challenge within forestry, coffee production, fisheries, electronic waste, and climate change. Drawing on our 13 years of research within and across these systems, we identify key trends, challenges, and opportunities, facing those who turn to transnational private authority to promote regulatory compliance with environmental and social standards. To do this we apply, from our deductive and inductive efforts, a theoretical framework that pays attention to the evolutionary potential of NSMD governance (Auld et al., 2009; Bernstein and Cashore, 2007; Cashore et al., 2007a). Such an approach allows us to identify questions that need exploring, causal relationships that need clarifying, and hypotheses that need testing.

Reychler, Luc, and Stefan Renckens. 2004. “Een Existentiële Kijk op Genocide” (“An Existential Perspective on Genocide”). In Reychler, Luc, Stefaan Calmeyn, Jos De la Haye, Katrien Hertog and Stefan Renckens, De Volgende Genocide (The Next Genocide). Leuven: Leuven University Press. (Dutch only)

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Reychler, Luc, Stefan Renckens, Katrijn Coppens, and Nikos Manaras, 2008. A Codebook for Evaluating Peace Agreements.  Leuven: Cahiers of the Center for Peace Research and Strategic Studies, Department of Political Science, University of Leuven, Vol. 83, 152 p.

Renckens, Stefan, 2007. Transnational Corporations as Constructive Agents in Conflict Prevention and Sustainable Peace Building. Leuven: Cahiers of the Center for Peace Research and Strategic Studies, Department of Political Science, University of Leuven, Vol. 78, 70 p.