The concept of global governance

All systems of governance are concerned primarily with managing the governing of associations and therefore with political authority, institutions, and, ultimately, control. Governance in this particular sense denotes formal political institutions that aim to coordinate and control interdependent social relations and that have the ability to enforce decisions. Increasingly however, in a globalised world, the concept of governance is being used to describe the regulation of interdependent relations in the absence of overarching political authority, such as in the international system.

Thus global governance can be considered as the management of global processes in the absence of any form of global government. There are some international bodies which seek to address these issues and prominent among these are the United Nations and the World Trade Organisation. Each of these has met with mixed success in instituting some form of governance in international relations but is part of a recognition of the problem and an attempt to address worldwide problems that go beyond the capacity of individual states to solve (Rosenau 1999).

To use the term global governance is not of course to imply that such a system actually exists, let alone to consider the effectiveness of its operations. It is merely to recognise that in this increasingly globalised world there is a need for some form of governance to deal with multinational and global issues. The term global governance therefore is a descriptive term, recognizing the issue and referring to concrete cooperative problem-solving arrangements.

These may be formal, taking the shape of laws or formally constituted institutions to manage collective affairs by a variety of actors - including states, intergovernmental organisations, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), other civil society actors, private sector organisations, pressure groups and individuals. The system also includes of course informal (as in the case of practices or guidelines) or temporary units (as in the case of coalitions). Thus global governance can be considered to be the complex of formal and informal institutions, mechanisms, relationships, and processes between and among states, markets, citizens and organizations, both inter- and non-governmental, through which collective interests on the global plane are articulated, rights and obligations are established, and differences are mediated.

Global governance is not of course the same thing as world government: indeed it can be argued that such a system would not actually be necessary if there was such a thing as a world government. Currently however the various state governments have a legitimate monopoly on the use of force - on the power of enforcement. Global governance therefore refers to the political interaction that is required to solve problems that affect more than one state or region when there is no power of enforcing compliance. Improved global problem-solving need not of course require the establishing of more powerful formal global institutions, but it would involve the creation of a consensus on norms and practices to be applied. Steps are of course underway to establish these norms and one example that is currently being established is the creation and improvement of global accountability mechanisms.

In this respect, for example, the United Nations Global Compact - described as the world's largest voluntary corporate responsibility initiative - brings together companies, national and international agencies, trades unions and other labour organisations and various organs of civil society in order to support universal environmental protection, human rights and social principles. Participation is entirely voluntary, and there is no enforcement of the principles by an outside regulatory body. Companies adhere to these practices both because they make economic sense, and because their stakeholders, including their shareholders (most individuals and institutional investors) are concerned with these issues and this provides a mechanism whereby they can monitor the compliance of companies easily. Mechanisms such as the Global Compact can improve the ability of individuals and local communities to hold companies accountable.

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