Not starting in sixth gear: Assessing the Use of Soft Law by the Global Compact as a Governance Structure for Corporate Social Responsibility.

The practical difficulties with employing hard law at an international level have resulted in softer codes of conduct stepping in to fill the void. The United Nations Global Compact is amongst the most ambitious of these codes, created with a desire to engage businesses in corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives. Soft law regulatory instruments, such as voluntary standards and framework agreements, have been routinely criticized for the vagueness and subjectivity of the commitments they elicit from their participants. However, what appears to be lacking in the existing literature is a critical analysis of such commitments. Through examining the use of soft law by the Compact, we argue that although many question or even dismiss its non-binding approach, it provides an illustrative example of the benefits of soft law over harder forms of regulation. The use of soft law as a global governance structure should not be dismissed as a ‘Plan B’ in the event that harder law is not practical. Clear benefits exist in starting an international regulatory mechanism at the softer end of the ‘legalization spectrum’ before toughening up later on.