Structural Aspects of a Governance System

When they are ‘born', Governments often reach out to address broad social and ethical goals. They might build into their founding documents ways to redress colonialism, to enhance democracy, to overcome land concentration, to assert cultural and national identities, or to provide women, workers, or indigenous people more rights. At the international level, these structural aspirations of governance produced major international institutions in the 1940s, 50s, and 60s and a series of conferences in the 70s, 80s, and 90s. The conferences explored new ways to address racism, 1  to adapt the constructed world to people with physical and emotional limitations, 2 to give literacy a central role in life, and to build support for environmental matters. 3  

The official intergovernmental system dealing for addressing ‘universal rights’ has largely two elements - a range of UN system organizations and commissions and a series of global and regional conferences and meetings that aim to increase international and national action on a specific human right. Among the UN system bodies are UN Women, the UN Council on Human Rights, and the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. Generally, international conferences seek to share the best academic research with a wider community, to define the breadth of a concern about a socially or politically weak community, to set global soft law standards, and to support national groups struggling within their own countries with a specific issue.

The unofficial international system is principally the aggregate impact of those multinational enterprises which adopt firm-wide global standards, regulations and purchasing requirements. For example, multinational firms which use their domestic hazardous waste standards to prevent dumping in poor communities in the developing world have created for themselves and the communities where they operate an internationally agreed-upon global standard for domestic hazardous waste disposal. 4  Firms that adopt gender-based work practices for their global operations, when not required by the site-specific national law or regulations, are acting to reduce sexism in the global workplace. Multinational purchase agreements that set auditing of worker safety practices create an external review system for suppliers, even when these are not required by the host country. And firms that stipulate green standards in their supply chain contracts act to create environmental standards throughout their global suppliers.

The global component of the civil society in this field include (a) a wide range of organizations and programs that act to create a recognition of universal rights and social and environmental obligations and (b) organizations that work to support local community groups to implement health, safety, and related procedural safeguards in the absence of state implementation.

The GRI has quite specific recommendations to deal with the persistence of a gender employment gap, enhance the rights of children, and encourage sustainable consumption.

• Human Rights
o Global Agenda Council on Human Rights and Protection

• Gender
o Global Agenda Council on the Gender Gap

• Consumer Products
o Global Agenda Council on Sustainable Consumption

GRI does not consider adverse effects of racism and nationalism. This is a concern expressed by the joint US-EU intelligence study on international governance to 2025:

Many experts see nationalism and xenophobia on the rise . . . Such tendencies contribute to making national positions in multilateral forums less accommodating. This may trigger a vicious circle of ineffective global governance, diverging perceptions, and angered national public debates fueling each other.  5

GRI also did not address homophobia, the marginalization of indigenous peoples, sexism, and physical and social barriers to people with challenges.

While GRI Tool One does call for the expansion of international norms and legal frameworks, GRI did not articulate any new norms or rights to address structural aspects of governance (e.g. a right for food, for health, or for water).    


Related Ideas: Emissions; Carbon capture; Low-carbon growth

The Readers' Guide welcomes commentary – critical or otherwise – of the description above as well as the identification of related issues, resources, and case studies.

  1. ^ World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia, and Related Intolerance, 2001
  2. ^ resulting in the Convention on the Rights of Person with Disabilities (2008)
  3. ^ Rio Conference on Environment and Development, 1992
  4. ^ The Basel Convention on Hazardous Waste focused on rules for the international trade in hazardous materials and wastes, not the generation or disposal of hazardous wastes within a country or by a company.
  5. ^ Global Governance 2025, pg 6.
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