Jump to ContentJump to Main Navigation
Governing through GoalsSustainable Development Goals as Governance Innovation$

Norichika Kanie and Frank Biermann

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780262035620

Published to MIT Press Scholarship Online: January 2018

DOI: 10.7551/mitpress/9780262035620.001.0001

Show Summary Details
Page of

PRINTED FROM MIT PRESS SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.mitpress.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright The MIT Press, 2018. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in MITSO for personal use. Subscriber: null; date: 24 October 2019

Corporate Water Stewardship: Lessons for Goal-based Hybrid Governance

Corporate Water Stewardship: Lessons for Goal-based Hybrid Governance

(p.187) 8 Corporate Water Stewardship: Lessons for Goal-based Hybrid Governance
Governing through Goals

Takahiro Yamada

The MIT Press

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter analyses the way in which the UN Global Compact Office (UNGCO) has attempted to mobilize the private sector to contribute to the attainment of MDG 7 through its initiative, the CEO Water Mandate. Since water governance represents a global environmental issue, which is characterized not only by the absence of an international regime, but also by the need for technical information on water resources that can be provided by major corporations, it requires goal-based hybrid governance, where successful governance depends on effective collaboration of corporate water users. As such, the UNGCO has found it necessary to contain the associated “risk of goal displacement” by engaging in “activation,” “orchestration,” and “modulation,” of which “orchestration” has proved central. The output of this process has been the concept of corporate water stewardship representing a shared knowledge base, which allows corporations to manage their physical, reputational, and regulatory risks.

Keywords:   Global governance, water governance, orchestration, risk management, international regimes, UN Global Compact, Millennium Development Goals, CEO Water Mandate

Corporations are increasingly becoming an important element in global environmentalism. They are not only publicizing their own eco-friendly business operations and products, but they are beginning to hold themselves more accountable for the actions of their suppliers as well. Moreover, they are increasingly partnering with international institutions, governments, and civil society organizations alike to address goals of global sustainability.

Nowhere is this effort more pronounced than in the area of water. According to a recent scientific analysis, global fresh water use is one of the three critical earth system processes that are rapidly approaching planetary boundaries (Rockström et al. 2009). In fact, it may not be long before we cross the planetary boundary for water, as the demand for freshwater is currently projected to exceed its supply by 40% in 2030 (2030 Water Resources Group 2012, 5). While the water scarcity problem is essentially a local problem (Whiteman, Walker, and Perego 2012, 314), its cumulative effect can be felt globally even in water-abundant countries. Furthermore, because water is so essential for life, water resource management also has a moral aspect. Universal access to safe drinking water has therefore been on the UN agenda ever since the UN Water Conference in Mar del Plata, Argentina in 1977. However, after more than two decades of endeavor, it became clear that the goal of universal access to safe drinking water was as remote as ever. This led to the inclusion of water access as one of the targets for Millennium Development Goal 7. As will be discussed below, corporations became involved in the process of realizing this target strictly on their own volition. It is this target for water that initially interested them, not other targets or goals. The issue of water therefore provides an excellent case study to understand the role of corporations in global environmental governance.

Not only has the environmental behavior of corporations long remained understudied (Whiteman, Walker, and Perego 2012, 309), but the political (p.188) behavior of corporations in environmental governance has only recently begun to receive an increasing amount of scholastic attention (Kurland and Zell 2010, 316). To the extent that corporate environmentalism has been studied, however, it has been approached mostly from the perspective of international environmental regimes, such as ozone and climate change regimes (Tienhaara, Orsini, and Falkner 2012), or from the perspective of transnational private governance in such areas as sustainable forestry and climate change (Pattberg 2007; Green 2014). Not as much attention has so far been given to the interaction between intergovernmental organizations and corporations in promoting sustainability in those situations, which are characterized by the absence of regimes, either public or private. The aim of this chapter is therefore to fill in this gap by analyzing how the United Nations has collaborated with businesses to address Millennium Development Goal 7, featuring the UN Global Compact’s CEO Water Mandate (hereafter the Mandate). As its name implies, this initiative was designed to bring water issues to the attention of the chief executive officers of water-using companies. It was launched in 2007 at the Global Compact Leaders Summit and has served as the only UN-sponsored multi-stakeholder forum aimed at globally addressing the problem of water scarcity. By examining how the United Nations has used it to elicit cooperation from nonstate actors to attain Millennium Development Goal 7, we should be able to draw implications for the conditions for successful goal-based governance.

With this in mind, I proceed as follows. First, I ask why it is necessary to look at the experience of Goal 7, and then provide a typology of global governance. Second, I briefly review the historical background that has led to the genesis of the Mandate, and then analyze the role of the UN Global Compact vis-à-vis nonstate actors. Lastly, I attempt to draw policy implications from this empirical case study with respect to goal-based governance.

Goal setting as a governance strategy is increasingly becoming the mainstay of today’s global governance. In coping with the challenges of climate change, for instance, the international community has set a goal of limiting the average global temperature rise to less than 2° C, and has recently required both developing and developed countries to submit intended nationally determined contributions to meet this goal. This has been touted as a balanced “soft diplomacy approach” by some observers of this process. Will such an approach make governance more effective as well as manageable? Or will it simply make governance more challenging? What kind of effect will such an approach have on global governance, which is (p.189) increasingly becoming “polycentric” (Abbott and Snidal 2009, 501–545; Ruggie 2013, 78)?

Naturally, different yardsticks can be used to evaluate governance. Effectiveness, efficiency, equity, manageability, and legitimacy are some of the most frequently used gauges of governance. For goal-based governance, similar criteria can be used as well. Oran Young, for instance, argues that the number of goals should be limited and that goals should be clearly defined to provide useful guidance to actors regarding effectiveness (Young, this volume, chapter 2). Similarly, Underdal and Kim stress the importance of having a small set of hierarchically ordered goals (Underdal and Kim, this volume, chapter 10). At the time of this writing, however, the outcome of the UN’s Open Working Group, which is the main venue for the negotiation of the Post-2015 Development Agenda, does not meet these requirements because the hard reality facing the Open Working Group does not allow the negotiators to settle for fewer than 17 Sustainable Development Goals and 169 targets. In the words of Ambassador Csaba Kőrösi, co-chair of this working group, this expansive list of goals is “a compromise between what is scientifically advisable, and what is politically feasible” (Kőrösi 2014). This outcome is thus not at all surprising, given the diversity of national priorities, circumstances, and capabilities.

What are the implications of this outcome? It is true that many of these goals are, scientifically speaking, crosscutting in nature—for instance, ensuring sustainable management of water has consequences for other goals, such as food security (Goal 2), energy (Goal 7), and climate change (Goal 13), and their relationships are not necessarily mutually complementary. Yet so far, no agreement has been reached at the global level as to how we should integrate them into a coherent whole. Consequently, such inter-goal integration will likely be deferred to the political judgment of each country. Does this mean that the Open Working Group’s effort to set goals and targets has been an outright failure? The answer is obviously no, because each goal is so designed that economic, social, and environmental aspects of sustainable development will be integrated within it. As Ambassador Kőrösi (2014) put it, “each SDG [Sustainable Development Goal] has its own unique genetic code for global sustainable development.”

While the High-level Political Forum may eventually come to play an important role in ensuring coherence among relevant institutions in and out of the United Nations (Bernstein, this volume, chapter 9), given the political reality discussed above, it is important to reflect on our past experience of goal-based governance to examine how the integration of the (p.190) three aspects of sustainable development was promoted within the bounds of a single goal. In this respect, Target 7.C of Millennium Development Goal 7 makes an ideal candidate for investigation because it aimed to ensure the availability of safe drinking water and basic sanitation, much like Goal 6, a new SDG for clean water and sanitation. Although the new Goal is more explicit about environmental aspects such as improving water quality, increasing water-use efficiency, and protecting water-related ecosystems, Target 7.C also included concerns for environmental aspects at least implicitly, as connoted by the use of the word “sustainable” (it reads: “Halve, by 2015, the proportion of the population without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation.”)

Four Modes of Global Governance

Given this nature of the water goal, then, what type of global governance should be adopted? First of all, it goes without saying that we need to realize any problem solving in the international political system has to be performed within the structural constraints of international anarchy. That is, given the absence of a central government, any global governance should necessarily be fragmented. In an anarchic system, the authority enjoyed by international institutions has to be shared with sovereign states. To the extent that international institutions engage in global governance, therefore, they do so primarily through states. This makes global governance necessarily indirect. Global governance will become more indirect, if the problem to be solved is local in nature, such as a water issue, because its solution depends almost entirely on the willingness and capacity of national and local governments. In this respect, the proposal by Gupta and Nilsson (this volume, chapter 12) for coordinated multilevel responses is a reasonable one.

Within this broad structural constraint, however, more subtle nuances of global governance can be captured by a typology that focuses on two prominent aspects of governance, namely coerciveness and directness, the elements featured in the “new governance” paradigm adopted in the public administration literature (Salamon 2002, 24–32). Coerciveness indicates the extent to which a policy instrument used in global governance restricts the freedom of targeted individual actors, while directness indicates the extent to which the international organization authorizing the provision of public goods is involved in the provision of the goods itself. This will give us a two-by-two matrix that classifies global governance into four modes, namely rule-based public governance, rule-based hybrid governance, (p.191)

Table 8.1 Types of Global Governance

More coercive

Less coercive

More direct

Rule-based public governance Kyoto Protocol Effective, but less efficient

Goal-based public governance Post-Kyoto Framework Less effective, but manageable

Less direct

Rule-based hybrid governance ILO standards Effective, but less manageable

Goal-based hybrid governance Millennium Development Goal 7, Sustainable Development Goal 6 Efficient, but less effective and manageable (goal displacement)

goal-based public governance, and goal-based hybrid governance, as shown in table 8.1.

Rule-based public governance is the most familiar mode, in which there is inter-governmental concurrence on a common goal as well as on a set of international rules to attain the goal. In this mode, international rules restrict the freedom of governments and other actors in order to ensure their compliance with the rules. Consequently, global governance will be as coercive as it can be within the constraints of the international system, and governments will be simultaneously more directly involved in regulating the behavior of subnational actors. This mode of governance may be what Young has in mind when he discusses the importance of integrating goals and rules. Since international regimes have both of these elements, this mode of global governance is coterminous with governance based on international regimes (Young and Levy 1999, 14; Young, this volume, chapter 2). The Kyoto Protocol can be listed as an example of this governance mode because it imposes some cost on those who fail to comply with the protocol, and in addition governments are expected to directly control the behavior of subnational actors.

What are the strengths and weaknesses of this governance mode? With all other things being equal, the more coercive the instrument of governance, the more effective the governance will be. Needless to say, effectiveness is a multifaceted concept; it can mean compliance with rules, changes in the behavior of targeted actors, or the solution of a given problem (Haas, Keohane, and Levy 1993; Young 1999). Here effectiveness simply means changes in the behavior of key actors, which will contribute to the solution of the problem for which a governance system is created. It is also true that the causality between coerciveness and effectiveness has not been fully established as a general law. However, one can plausibly argue that the creation of a legal structure at the domestic level in conformity with (p.192) the provisions of an international regime is more likely to induce changes in the behavior of key actors because the effective enforcement of national law can ensure their compliance with the regime. However, precisely because governance in this mode entails such a legal structure, the downside of this governance mode will include higher administrative costs, the enlargement of the public sector, and a loss of political support from those whose freedom will be constrained. Consequently, as Conca argues, this mode of governance may not be suitable for problems with local effects like water issues because not all governments have the authority or capacity to control the behavior of subnational actors at the community level (Conca 2006, 49).

Goal-based hybrid governance is the diametrical opposite of rule-based public governance because low levels of coerciveness and directness characterize this governance mode. As such, neither does goal-based hybrid governance impose any costs or penalties on actors in the private sector, nor does it impose excessive administrative costs on governments. The absence of coerciveness will therefore make this mode an efficient approach. For this reason, this mode would likely be welcomed by both the private sector and governments. Yet there is a drawback to this approach. Because this mode is highly indirect in that governance requires the collaboration of private actors, there is always a chance that the private actors will not be as committed to the attainment of the goal as will be its principal, namely the international organization. Especially when the interests of these actors greatly diverge from those of the international organization, it will likely increase the “risk of goal displacement” (Salamon 2002, 31). As will be discussed below, since the solution of many water issues requires a high level of collaboration from the private sector, this mode of governance will most likely be adopted for water governance.

Rule-based hybrid governance and goal-based public governance are intermediate modes between rule-based public governance and goal-based hybrid governance. A relatively high level of coerciveness and a low level of directness characterize rule-based hybrid governance. As such, while the former feature is expected to ensure a certain level of effectiveness, the latter feature reduces the manageability of governance. That is, in rule-based hybrid governance, neither the international organization nor national governments monitor or certify the private actors’ compliance with international rules; such functions will be delegated to the private actors themselves. Consequently, the risk of goal displacement is always present. Global governance regarding labor rights may fall into this category because networks of nongovernmental organizations and corporations are implementing the core standards of the International Labor Organization through various (p.193) private governance schemes. Goal-based public governance, on the other hand, is characterized by a low level of coerciveness and by a high level of directness. As such, it is expected to be less effective, but its manageability is expected to be higher because governments are more directly involved in the governance process. The global framework that has evolved to replace the Kyoto Protocol seems to fit this category because the implementation of the goal of keeping the temperature rise to a minimum level will be largely left to individual governments, which would then exercise some control over the private sector.

Having laid out four different governance modes, which mode will most likely be adopted with respect to water issues? Two variables may become important here. One is the dependence of governments on the private sector’s talents and resources for the definition and solution of problems, and the other is the level of controversy surrounding the issues.

Water problems have both of these features. Because there are so many technical issues involved, ranging from assessment of the supply of water and efficient use and recycling of water to the protection of ecosystems, governments need collaboration from private actors, who have the necessary know-how and skills to solve these issues. This need becomes even greater when governmental capabilities are called into question, as in the case of many developing countries. The dependency on the private sector’s expertise and resources, therefore, creates the need for indirect governance. Moreover, water problems can also be highly controversial. Who has the right to use a local community’s scarce resources and how much they are allowed to use are always politically contested because water has to be shared among industry, agriculture, and people. Under such circumstances, it makes political sense to provide “opportunities to cut affected interests into a ‘piece of the action’” (Salamon 2002, 30). Apart from the government’s general predisposition toward efficiency, therefore, these two factors, namely the governments’ dependence on the private sector’s capabilities and the contested nature of the issues involved, will make goal-based hybrid governance the most likely candidate for water governance.

If that is the case, however, we are stuck with the risk of goal displacement because more authority will be devolved to the private sector, over which the international organization has less control. How can an international organization adapt to this daunting administrative challenge? The notion of “enablement” skills discussed in the new governance paradigm literature is helpful here. This paradigm prescribes three analytically different types of skills. The first are activation skills. With these skills, (p.194) the principal can be expected to mobilize the “networks of actors increasingly required to address” the problems (Salamon 2002, 16). That is, the international organization as a principal can create opportunities for non-state actors, be it nongovernmental organizations or corporations, to participate in the problem solving by “encouraging the potential partners to step forward and play their roles.” The second set of skills the principal is required to use are orchestration skills because once actors are activated into a network, the network needs to be maintained to produce collaborative outcomes in line with the goal. The principal, like a symphony conductor, should convey an interpretation of what the common goal entails, while “remaining within the bounds set by the physical capacities of the instruments” used to attain the goal. If orchestration goes well, therefore, the result will be “a piece of music rather than a cacophony” (Salamon 2002, 17). Moreover, what counts in orchestration is those “intangibles” such as vision, knowledge, and persuasion, not material consequences (Ruggie 1982, 1998, 2004; Finnemore 1993, 1996; Katzenstein 1996; Finnemore and Sikkink 1998). In this respect, orchestration assumes the logic of appropriateness. Although this concept of “orchestration” has already been imported into the literature on international organizations, it needs to be emphasized that its essence lies in its effect of avoiding the risk of goal subversion by third-party partners. With this in mind, in International Relations, “orchestration” is thus defined as a process of supporting and/or steering a network of diverse stakeholders for the pursuit of public policy objectives through the use of “a wide range of directive and facilitative techniques” (Abbott and Snidal 2009, 521 and 565–577; Abbott et al. 2015).

The third and final set of skills that the principal should use are modulation skills because persuasion based on the logic of appropriateness may not always work, at least for some actors (Salamon 2002, 17; Risse, Ropp, and Sikkink 1999, 11). To the extent that persuasion is inadequate, the principal needs to rely on “rewards and penalties” in order to elicit cooperative behavior from ill-socialized network partners. However, because goal-based hybrid governance makes use of less coercive instruments, the principal needs to provide more positive incentives than disincentives. If the instruments used become too punitive, it will chase the cost-sensitive private partners out of the network.

With these analytical concepts in place, we shall now look at how the United Nations has responded to the problem of water governance in relation to Target 7.C of Millennium Development Goal 7. But, first, let us briefly review the background that led to the formulation of this target.

(p.195) Analysis of Millennium Development Goal 7

Historical Background

Long before Millennium Development Goal 7 was set, the UN Water Conference held in 1977 in Mar del Plata, Argentina, had set a similar goal of universal access to safe drinking water and sanitation services. Subsequently, in accordance with this goal, the UN General Assembly declared the 1980s the International Drinking Water Supplies and Sanitation Decade. Yet, by the end of that decade, it became clear that little progress had been made in meeting the goal. As a result, water experts began to call for a more comprehensive approach, which became known as integrated water resource management. The “Dublin Principles,” ratified at an international conference on water just preceding the UN Conference on Environment and Development, embodied this new comprehensive approach. The basic tone of these principles was, however, extremely neoliberal because these principles treated water essentially as an economic good.1 As international development agencies began to endorse the idea of integrated water resource management, the privatization of water supplies came to be seen as the panacea for all water problems. Major multinational water suppliers such as Suez Lyonnaise des Eaux and Vivendi jumped on the bandwagon and began supplying water in many countries.

After a while, this neoliberal ideology began to draw criticism from water activists because no improvements were yet to be made in providing universal access to water and sanitation. In certain water-stressed regions, the situation even worsened, giving rise to tense anti-privatization movements. For instance, in South Africa, a violent protest broke out because private water companies cut off water supplies (Conca 2006, 238–239), and in India, a Coca-Cola plant in Plachimada, Kerala, was forced to shut down because the company was believed to be depleting the community’s ground water (Bywater 2012, 208–209). Before too long, these movements became transnationally linked, largely owing to the activities of the World Social Forum, a counterpart to the World Economic Forum (Pigman 2007, 128–129). Through these protests, activists tried to drive home the point that only a well-managed, democratically accountable public sector could ensure universal access to water and sanitation.2

By the early 2000s, UN institutions began to respond to this mounting criticism. In 2000, for instance, the UN Millennium Summit endorsed the goal of reducing the proportion of the world’s population lacking affordable access to safe water by half by 2015, and this was followed by the decision at the World Summit on Sustainable Development to make water one (p.196) of its key themes for sustainable development (Bakker 2012, 26). Once again, therefore, a goal and a target were set to remind the international community of the importance of water access.


Did the United Nations use its activation skills to form a network of both governments and nongovernmental actors? If the United Nations were to perform such a task, it should be the job of the UN Global Compact Office because the UN Global Compact was launched to encourage businesses to commit themselves to the Millennium Development Goals as well as to the UN Global Compact’s 10 universal principles in the areas of human rights, labor rights, environment, and corruption.3 It was indeed as part of this mission that the UN Global Compact Office initiated the Mandate in the summer of 2007. The idea was to create a network of businesses, nongovernmental organizations, and governments, mainly to assist businesses in the development, implementation, and disclosure of water sustainability practices, thereby contributing to the attainment of Target 7.C of Goal 7.

Genesis of the CEO Water Mandate

Let us first look at how this initiative came about. According to Gavin Power, Deputy Director of the UN Global Compact Office, who has served as the Mandate’s Secretariat since its inception, it was a handful of high-volume corporate water users that provided the original idea for the Mandate (Power 2014).

This is how the idea was conceived. Since most of the companies committed to the UN Global Compact had only focused on fleshing out the UN Global Compact’s 10 principles, businesses were less concerned with addressing the Millennium Development Goals in general. Many of them found it difficult to understand why development issues such as poverty were important for businesses. This led to the UN Global Compact Office’s decision to raise awareness with businesses about the Millennium Development Goals. Gradually, some companies began to have internal discussions about how they could expand their corporate social responsibility strategy to incorporate a development component. The UN Global Compact Office also began its discussions regarding how to extend the 10 principles into some concrete issue platforms. At that time, a few companies approached Mr. Power and suggested water as a possible area for a focus, pointing out to him that the water issues were becoming “increasingly important and material” for them (Power 2014). Power then decided that water would be (p.197) a good choice because it is directly relevant to the UN Global Compact’s environmental and human rights principles. Power recalls that “it was really the companies that came forward and said, ‘it would be interesting if you would consider launching a Global Compact initiative on water to help us go ‘deep’ into the issue’” (Power 2014). In response to this corporate initiative, the UN Global Compact Office subsequently arranged an informal meeting with company representatives at the Swedish Embassy in Washington, DC.

The meeting was held in 2006 with representatives from six companies, including Coca-Cola, Levi’s, and Nestle. This meeting basically turned into a brainstorming session that shaped the outline of the Mandate. They agreed early on that this should be an initiative for large-scale corporate water users, and not for water utility companies or water distributors. The company representatives argued that through this initiative, they wanted to understand how they could meet challenges where they were beginning to experience water stress. They also emphasized that they were facing reputational and regulatory risks because if they did not act responsibly in water-stressed regions, they could easily be accused of taking water away from the local community and might face costly regulations. This awareness, shared by the participating companies, led to the selection of six focal areas, which were dubbed “the six elements” of the Mandate: direct operations, supply chain and watershed issues, community engagement, collective action, public policy engagement, and transparency (United Nations Global Compact 2011b). They also felt that the best way to elicit cooperation from the private sector was to issue a set of recommended actions, then have the companies report on them. Subsequently, this idea was conveyed to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who then turned it into a major deliverable at the 2007 Global Compact Leaders Summit.

Institutionalization of the Mandate

Initially, the idea was simply to ask the endorsing companies to commit themselves to the Mandate’s six elements and to have them report on their plans and actions. The UN Global Compact Office, however, subsequently decided to create an institutional apparatus equipped with some organizational resources.

The Mandate now includes a steering committee, annual working conferences, endorser-only meetings, working groups, and a Secretariat. The steering committee is primarily charged with strategic decision making and administrative oversight, and is composed of 10 endorsing company representatives chosen from five different regions, as well as (p.198) ex officio members from the Secretariat. Each stakeholder member serves on the committee for two years. The steering committee has also come to include nonvoting special advisors representing nonbusiness stakeholder interests, such as nongovernmental organizations and governments. The main task of endorser-only meetings is to supplement the steering committee functions, especially when there are issues that a broader constituency should be informed about. Working groups are usually composed of a small number of company and civil society representatives, and meet through conference calls mainly to discuss work plans, drafts of guides, and other outputs.

Lastly, the Mandate has a unique arrangement for its Secretariat because it is based on a partnership with a specialized research institute, not affiliated with the United Nations. Jason Morrison from the Pacific Institute, specializing in environmental protection, economic development, and social equity issues, works in tandem with UN Global Compact Deputy Director Gavin Power to serve as the Mandate’s Secretariat. In practice, the Pacific Institute functions as the initiative’s “operational arm.” It coordinates the working conferences, conducts research on topics relevant to the initiative’s work streams, and helps the working groups to develop guides on various aspects of water management. As Power puts it, this arrangement is “a match made in heaven” (Power 2014). None of the UN Global Compact’s other “issue platforms” has this type of arrangement. This can be explained by the absence of a UN specialized agency, which is capable of supplying technical advice regarding water. True, there is UN-Water, which serves an interagency organization performing coordination functions within the UN system on issues related to water, but it is not a technical organization capable of supplying expertise on water.

In short, not only has the UN Global Compact mobilized businesses to play an active role in addressing Goal 7’s target on water, it has also helped create the network of business and nonbusiness actors concerned with water issues by providing a formalized institutional arena.


The cursory overview of the initiative’s institutions above reveals that its annual working conferences are precisely where endorsing companies engage in the Mandate’s networking activities; they share practices, discuss complex issues, identify practical solutions, and get feedback from other stakeholders. In order to ascertain the intensity of their interaction, we thus need to ask the following questions: How well have the (p.199) endorsing companies actually attended these meetings, and to what extent has their attendance been matched by the attendance of nonbusiness stakeholders?

Let us first look at the changes in the number of endorsing companies in order to measure the magnitude of overall corporate interest in the Mandate. When the initiative was launched in 2007, there were only five endorsing companies. By mid-2010, the number had reached 75, and currently 129 companies have come to endorse the initiative. Admittedly, it is a very small issue platform, attracting only a fraction of the total number of companies participating in the UN Global Compact, which is estimated to be about 8,000. Even when compared to Caring for Climate, the UN Global Compact’s other environmental issue platform, the Mandate’s membership is significantly smaller, for Caring for Climate now has over 400 signatories. Nevertheless, the change in the number of the endorsing companies clearly indicates the intensification of corporate interest in water issues.

Moreover, of these endorsing companies, about a third seem to be regularly attending the Mandate’s working conferences; for instance, in 2010, 25 out of 75 endorsers attended these conferences, and in 2013, 41 out of 122 endorsers attended them on average. Nongovernmental organizations and government organizations are also participating in these conferences fairly vigorously. Table 8.2 gives the breakdown of participation by these three actors in percentiles for the period of 2008 through 2013; corporate participation has averaged 54.4%, while civil society and government participation averaged 26.1% and 19.5%, respectively. From these data, therefore, one can confirm that the Mandate with its permanent institutional

Table 8.2 Average Participation by Stakeholders (in percent)














Nongovernmental organizations














Sources: Calculated from lists of participants attached to the meeting summary for CEO Water Mandate Working Conference (UN Global Compact), Inaugural, Second, Third, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, Eighth, Eleventh, and Twelfth meetings (the meeting summaries for the Ninth and Tenth CEO Water Mandate Working Conferences are unavailable).

(p.200) structure in place has served as a vibrant platform for multi-stakeholder networking. One can therefore say that, all in all, the UN Global Compact Office has performed its activation function quite effectively. Not only has it urged private actors to step forward to play an important role in implementing the Millennium Development Goals, but it has also created and institutionalized a network of stakeholders to promote dialogue concerning water issues.


Then, the question becomes whether the UN Global Compact Office has also engaged in orchestration to create a common vision or knowledge among the stakeholders. If such an orchestration has indeed been performed, we should find out how it has been carried out, and what shared interpretation it has produced regarding the role of business in relation to water issues.

At the Mandate’s Second Working Conference, held in Stockholm, August 2008, it was agreed that the biggest challenge for the Mandate was to define the respective roles for public and private actors in providing universal access to safe drinking water and sanitation (CEO Water Mandate 2008, 8). This then led to the creation of two work streams: one on corporate engagement with water policy, and the other on water and human rights (CEO Water Mandate 2009c, 4–7). Of these two, initially the former attracted more attention due to its connection with Millennium Development Goal 7. The summary of the meeting stresses the importance of this work stream as follows: “Globally accepted policy objectives such as the UN MDGs can not only steer national/regional water policies, but also corporate water management practices (and policy engagements activities). … Companies can take actions to promote strong public regulatory frameworks and water governance” (CEO Water Mandate 2009b, 14, emphasis added).

Let us first look at how shared knowledge concerning this theme has emerged. In this connection, it is important to point out that the UN Global Compact Office’s orchestration has made full use of the expertise provided by nongovernmental organizations. To be more specific, from the outset, the Pacific Institute and the World Wide Fund for Nature clearly set the tone for the ensuing discussion between endorsers and other stakeholders (CEO Water Mandate 2009a). One can therefore argue that the contribution of nongovernmental organizations to the Mandate’s final outputs, namely the Framework for Responsible Business Engagement with Water Policy (hereafter, the Policy Engagement Framework) (p.201) and the Guide to Responsible Business Engagement with Water Policy, was substantial.4

Then, what interpretation have business and nonbusiness participants come to share with respect to the role of business? We can summarize the Mandate’s argument as follows. Water is a scarce and nonsubstitutable resource shared by a multitude of users. As such, water availability and its quality are affected by the water use and discharge practices of all the users. Companies, which use water for industrial purposes, therefore need to collaborate with local communities and governments to jointly reduce water risks. To be sure, many progressive companies have already begun to make an effort to understand their water use and discharge within their fence lines as well as in their supply chains. Some companies, such as Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, and Nestlé, for instance, now have a self-professed goal of becoming “water neutral,” and thus constantly monitor their impact on water resources (Dauvergne and Lister 2013, 65). There is no doubt this is an important step companies can take in reducing the negative impact of their water use and discharge. Such within-the-fence-line water management, however, is not considered sufficient because one drop of water conserved through one company’s internal effort may mean different things for different communities, depending on the amount of water that other users consume, as well as on government’s capacity to police illegal water withdrawals and substandard water discharges.

The Mandate’s Policy Engagement Framework thus identifies five primary scales for water policy engagement: internal (internal efficiency, pollution control); local (water supplies and sanitation at the level of municipalities); regional (overseeing judicious basin management); national (ensuring the enactment of appropriate legislative and institutional arrangements regarding the supply and use of water, equitable access, and the quality of water); and global (engaging with development agencies, international financial institutions, and nongovernmental organizations for international advocacy and development of best practices and new standards; CEO Water Mandate 2010a, 3 and 5–6).

More specifically, by engaging with local communities, companies can share what they have learned from water footprint analyses with other users and concerned stakeholders. In light of competing water demands in local communities, companies need to take such steps to reduce “the risk of future water-related disputes or disruptions” (CEO Water Mandate 2009a, 6). Companies also should assist in developing local water systems by providing technologies such as clean water technologies and rainwater harvesting techniques as well as providing funds for managing watersheds. (p.202) Only through this type of local engagement can companies help reduce their reputational risks to maintain their social license to operate.

In addition, companies need to engage with governments because “the way in which governments manage water for all users” affects the level of social and environmental risk companies will face (CEO Water Mandate 2009a, 7). When governments do not have effective and fair policies regarding water infrastructure development, water allocation and pricing, management of water supplies, delivery of sanitation services, and protection of natural systems, companies’ efforts to improve their own water efficiency will at the end of the day amount to nothing. Companies therefore need to engage in public policy processes to ensure that governments enact appropriate legislative and institutional arrangements regarding the supply and use of water, equitable access to water, and the quality of water, while explicitly articulating their concern for the public interest. Otherwise, companies will face high water risks because a free-for-all situation obtains. In short, both community engagement and responsible corporate engagement in public policy are regarded as an important business contribution to effective water governance.

This shared interpretation is therefore informed by a concern for risks that businesses may face when they fail to engage in water policy and collective action. In particular, reputational and regulatory risks were discussed during the course of deliberation (CEO Water Mandate 2014, 4–6). Some corporations are high-volume water users and are thus likely to face physical risks in situations of water scarcity. However, physical risks are not the only risks they should be mindful of. They should also pay attention to reputational risks because, in the absence of effective water governance, corporations may run the risk of being accused of exploiting the community’s water. In the worst-case scenario, they might even lose their social license to operate as their reputation becomes irreparably tarnished. They will also likely face regulatory risks because, should companies fail to adequately cope with such “reputational risks,” governments will likely be pressed to tighten withdrawal permits or revoke their legal license to operate. Companies will also face another type of regulatory risk when the government fails to police polluters of ambient water or illegal water users, or fails to allocate water permits fairly according to needs because, under such circumstances, the amount of water that companies can use will inevitably be reduced. Yet, for various reasons, in many developing countries, governments do not generally perform regulatory functions in an adequate fashion.5

Given these risks, therefore, it makes sense to businesses to mobilize both governments and communities to establish a well-functioning (p.203) institutional framework for water governance. Policy engagement and community engagement have thus become top priorities for the endorsing companies of the Mandate. It is interesting to note that while some of the endorsing companies were well aware of these risks right from the start, it was nongovernmental organizations that conceptualized these risks and provided policy prescriptions as to how to mitigate them (CEO Water Mandate 2009b, 7–8 and 14). Indeed, without this epistemic input from civil society organizations, it is hard to imagine that any shared knowledge could ever have emerged. In other words, the orchestration by the UN Global Compact Office was made possible through the orchestrated collaboration with civil society organizations.

More recently, the Mandate has begun to promote this shared understanding under the label of “corporate water stewardship.” While prescribing the same responsible behavior as the Policy Engagement Framework and Guide, this concept prompts companies to be more assertive about how they can become the stewards for water. As part of this corporate stewardship, the Mandate issued a communiqué to government leaders who gathered at the 2012 UN Conference on Sustainable Development to “urge them to make water and sanitation a key priority,” and has subsequently advocated the inclusion of water and sanitation issues in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development as a stand-alone goal in the UN’s Open Working Group process.6


Will the provision of a common interpretation regarding the role of business be adequate to avoid the risk of goal disruption associated with goal-based hybrid governance? Can companies be trusted to internalize the shared knowledge?

There is obviously a temptation for engaging in “greenwashing” or “blue-washing.” That is, companies may claim that they are doing something good for the environment, while they are actually not, or they may claim that they are collaborating with the United Nations without actually contributing to the cause. There is therefore no guarantee that companies act responsibly at all times. Yet deception can prove to be costly for companies, should the truth come out, because it may lead to the withdrawal of their social license, or even short of that, it could lead to a loss of investor or consumer confidence. The market will eventually punish dishonest companies if they are transparent to the market.

The question therefore boils down to how the UN Global Compact Office has actually incentivized companies to be transparent. In this (p.204) connection, the Mandate’s disclosure requirement should be mentioned. As part of their commitment to the Mandate, the endorsing companies are required to annually disclose their strategies and actions related to its six elements in a Communication on Progress. Companies get delisted if they fail to meet this requirement. Some companies, failing to meet this requirement, have already been delisted. Moreover, like other UN Global Compact platforms, companies are organized into three categories, namely “Learner,” “Active,” and “Advanced,” depending on the level of submitted Communications on Progress. This categorization is intended to “encourage and challenge participants to use more sophisticated methodology and release more detailed” Communications on Progress (United Nations Global Compact 2014, 3), on the assumption that the more detailed the companies’ disclosed information is, the more confident other stakeholders can feel about these companies. Companies are thus provided with powerful incentives to be responsible because stakeholders such as consumers and investors can penalize irresponsible companies. In short, the linkage between transparency and the market is consciously built into the system to create an incentive structure for companies to be responsible.


In this chapter, I have provided a typology of global governance on the basis of coerciveness and directness and have argued that water issues would fall into goal-based hybrid governance characterized by a low level of directness and a low level of coerciveness. I have also pointed out that this mode of governance will suffer from the risk of goal disruption between the principal and its third-party partners. Thus, I have expected the international organization in charge to make use of activation, orchestration, and modulation skills to reduce this risk.

I have found that the UN Global Compact Office has indeed engaged in activation. It has not only mobilized businesses into a network of stakeholders to address Target 7.C of Goal 7, but it has also institutionalized the network. This in turn has created an enabling environment for the UN Global Compact Office’s subsequent orchestration, whereby the UN Global Compact Office has provided an interpretation of what Target 7.C means for business. Thereafter, this interpretation has come to be shared by the Mandate participants and has led to the conceptualization of corporate water stewardship. In addition, the UN Global Compact Office has also performed its modulation function by creating an incentive structure for (p.205) companies to commit themselves to the requirements of corporate water stewardship.

The implications for goal-based governance are therefore as follows. First, setting a goal and a target such as Goal 7 and Target 7.C has made a difference in the way the United Nations has approached water issues. It has definitely facilitated the mobilization of the private sector. Indeed, without the goal and the target, it might have been difficult, if not impossible, for the UN Global Compact Office to engage in goal-based hybrid governance in the first place. Having said that, however, one cannot assume that activation will always be followed by orchestration. In the case of the Mandate, it so happened that the UN Global Compact Office has performed orchestration as well, but whether or not the UN Global Compact Office always engages in orchestration is open to question. Needless to say, had it not performed the orchestration function, no social construction of business’ role with respect to water governance would have been possible.

Yet, the question still remains whether the UN Global Compact Office’s effort to engage in goal-based hybrid governance has made a difference in terms of attaining Goal 7 itself. True, as far as Target 7.C is concerned, the world has met the target with respect to access to improved sources of water five years ahead of schedule. However, how much of this is attributable to corporations’ behavioral change is unknown. Neither do we know the extent to which corporations have engaged in water policy as a result of the UN Global Compact Office’s orchestration and modulation. Interestingly, however, a survey conducted by the Global Compact Office in 2009 shows that of all the partnerships the survey’s respondents had been involved in, 85% were actually aimed at the implementation of Goal 7, and out of these partnerships, about 70% had advocacy as a dominant objective, while 44% listed governments as partners (United Nations Global Compact 2011a, 5–57). Yet it is impossible to tell how much of this is attributable to the outcome of the Mandate itself.

Nevertheless, the record shows that the endorsing companies of the Mandate have consistently called on national governments to prioritize water issues, and also to incorporate water, sanitation, and hygiene into the Post-2015 Development Agenda. More importantly, some of the endorsing companies have actually begun to engage in water policy reforms in several water-stressed countries in collaboration with the International Finance Corporation.7 Such corporate stewardship is extremely important in light of the fact that national governments in water-stress areas may not always have an incentive to address the ecological challenges of water scarcity. It is (p.206) therefore not an exaggeration to say that the success of goal-based governance for water will largely depend on the level of corporate engagement with governments. It is in this respect that the UN Global Compact Office’s “new governance” has had an important effect on how different stakeholders, be it state or nonstate actors, come to align their behavior with a common global goal to enhance the effectiveness of polycentric governance for water.


Bibliography references:

2030 Water Resources Group. 2009. Charting Our Water Future: Economic Frameworks to Inform Decision-Making.

2030 Water Resources Group. 2012. The Water Resources Group: Background, Impact and the Way Forward. Briefing report prepared for the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos-Klosters, Switzerland, January 2012.

(p.207) Abbott, Kenneth W., Philipp Genschel, Duncan Snidal, and Bernhard Zangl. 2015. International Organizations as Orchestrators. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Abbott, Kenneth W., and Duncan Snidal. 2009. Strengthening International Regulation Through Transnational New Governance: Overcoming the Orchestration Deficit. Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law 42: 501–578.

Bakker, Karen. 2004. An Uncooperative Commodity: Privatizing Water in England and Wales. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Bakker, Karen. 2010. Privatizing Water: Governance Failure and the World’s Urban Water Crisis. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

Bakker, Karen. 2012. Commons Versus Commodities: Debating the Human Right to Water. In The Right to Water: Politics, Governance and Social Struggles, ed. Farhana Sultana and Alex Loftus, 19–44. London, New York: Earthscan.

Bernstein, Steven F. 2001. The Compromise of Liberal Environmentalism. New York: Columbia University Press.

Bywater, Krista. 2012. Anti-Privatization Struggles and the Right to Water in India: Engendering Cultures of Opposition. In The Right to Water: Politics, Governance and Social Struggles, ed. Farhana Sultana and Alex Loftus, 206–222. London: Earthscan.

CEO Water Mandate. 2008. CEO Water Mandate Second Working Conference, August 21–22, 2008, World Water Week, Stockholm, meeting summary.

CEO Water Mandate. 2009a. From Footprint to Public Policy: The Business Future for Addressing Water Issues. Discussion Paper.

CEO Water Mandate. 2009b. CEO Water Mandate Third Working Conference, March 15–17, 2009, World Water Forum, Istanbul, meeting summary.

CEO Water Mandate. 2009c. CEO Water Mandate Fourth Working Conference, August 16–18, 2009, World Water Week, Stockholm, meeting summary.

CEO Water Mandate. 2010a. Framework for Responsible Business Engagement with Water Policy.

CEO Water Mandate. 2010b. CEO Water Mandate Sixth Working Conference, November 14–17, 2010, Cape Town, South Africa, meeting summary.

CEO Water Mandate. 2014. Shared Water Challenges and Interests: The Case for Private Sector Engagement in Water Policy and Management. Discussion paper.

Conca, Ken. 2006. Governing Water: Contentious Transnational Politics and Global Institutional Building. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Dauvergne, Peter, and Jane Lister. 2013. Eco-Business: A Big-Brand Takeover of Sustainability. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

(p.208) Finnemore, Martha. 1993. International Organizations as Teachers of Norms: The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization and Science Policy. International Organization 47 (4): 565–597.

Finnemore, Martha. 1996. Norms, Culture, and World Politics: Insights from Sociology’s Institutionalism. International Organization 50 (2): 325–347.

Finnemore, Martha, and Kathryn Sikkink. 1998. International Norm Dynamics and Political Change. International Organization 52 (4): 887–917.

Goldman, Michael. 2005. Imperial Nature: The World Bank and the Making of Green Neoliberalism. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Green, Jessica. 2014. Rethinking Private Authority: Agents and Entrepreneurs in Global Environmental Governance. Princeton, Oxford: Princeton University Press.

Gregoratti, Catia. 2012. The United Nations Global Compact and Development. In Business Regulation and Non-State Actors: Whose Standards? Whose Development? ed. Darryl Reed, Peter Utting, and Ananya Mukherjee-Reed, 95–108. London: Routledge.

Haas, Peter M., Robert O. Keohane, and Marc A. Levy, eds. 1993. Institutions for the Earth: Sources of Effective Environmental Protection. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Katzenstein, Peter J. 1996. The Culture of National Security: Norms and Identity in World Politics. New York: Columbia University Press.

Kőrösi, Csaba. 2014. Keynote speech at the Science and the Sustainable Development Goals Conference sponsored by the United Nations University’s Institute for the Advanced Study of Sustainability, Tokyo Institute of Technology, and POST 2015 Project of the Ministry of Environment, Tokyo, Japan, November 15, 2014.

Kurland, Nancy B., and Deone Zell. 2010. Water and Business: A Taxonomy and Review of the Research. Organization & Environment 23: 316–353.

Pattberg, Philipp H. 2007. Private Institutions and Global Governance: The New Politics of Environmental Sustainability. Northampton, MA: Edward Elgar.

Pigman, Geoffrey A. 2007. The World Economic Forum: A Multi-stakeholder Approach to Global Governance. New York: Routledge.

Power, Gavin. 2014: Interview by author with Mr. Power, Deputy Director, UN Global Compact Office. New York City, 28 February.

Risse, Thomas, Stephen C. Ropp, and Kathryn Sikkink, eds. 1999. The Power of Human Rights: International Norms and Domestic Change. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Rockström, Johan, Will Steffen, Kevin Noon, Åsa Persson, F. Stuart Chapin III, Eric F. Lambin, Timothy M. Lenton, et al. 2009. A Safe Operating Space for Humanity. Nature 461: 472–475.

(p.209) Ruggie, John G. 1982. International Regimes, Transactions, and Change: Embedded Liberalism in the Postwar Economic Order. International Organization 36 (2): 379–415.

Ruggie, John G. 1998. Constructing the World Polity: Essays on International Institutionalization. London: Routledge.

Ruggie, John G. 2004. Reconstituting the Global Public Domain: Issues, Actors, and Practices. European Journal of International Relations 10 (4): 499–531.

Ruggie, John G. 2013. Just Business: Multinational Corporations and Human Rights. New York: W. W. Norton.

Salamon, Lester M, ed. 2002. The Tools of Government: A Guide to the New Governance. New York: Oxford University Press.

Tienhaara, Kyla, Amandine Orsini, and Robert Falkner. 2012. Global Corporations. In Global Environmental Governance Reconsidered, ed. Frank Biermann and Philipp Pattberg, 45–67. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

United Nations Global Compact. 2011a. United Nations Global Compact Annual Review 2010—Anniversary Edition. New York: United Nations Global Compact Office.

United Nations Global Compact. 2011b. The CEO Water Mandate: An Initiative by Business Leaders in Partnership with the International Community. New York: United Nations Global Compact Office.

United Nations Global Compact. 2014. Post-2015 Agenda and Related Sustainable Development Goals, Issue Focus: Water and Sanitation and the Role of Business. UN Global Compact Briefing Series, Issue Paper 6.

Whiteman, Gail, Brian Walker, and Paolo Perego. 2012. Planetary Boundaries: Ecological Foundations for Corporate Sustainability. Journal of Management Studies 50 (2): 307–336.

Young, Oran R. 1999. Governance in World Affairs. Ithaca, London: Cornell University Press.

Young, Oran R., and Marc A. Levy. 1999. The Effectiveness of International Environmental Regimes. In The Effectiveness of International Environmental Regimes: Causal Connections and Behavioral Mechanisms, ed. Oran R. Young, 1–32. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. (p.210)


(1.) This ideological stance is known as “market environmentalism,” “liberal environmentalism,” or “green neoliberalism” (Bakker 2004, 2010, and 2012; Bernstein 2001; Goldman 2005).

(2.) They insisted on the continued monopoly of the state authority, the protection of public-sector jobs, and the continuation of subsidized water services (Conca 2006, 247; Bakker 2012, 21).

(3.) The launching of the UN Global Compact was proposed by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan at the 1999 World Economic Forum in order to “give a human face to the global market” (Gregoratti 2012, 96).

(4.) The framework was delivered at the UN Global Compact Leaders Summit in June 2010, and the full-length guide was released at the Sixth Working Conference held in Cape Town, South Africa, in November 2010 (CEO Water Mandate 2010b, 6).

(5.) The obstacles include corruption, a lack of awareness, competing demands for water, and a lack of administrative resources (CEO Water Mandate 2014, 9).

(6.) A CEO from Unilever, one of the Mandate’s active endorsing companies, called for long-term water planning, improved efficiency particularly in agriculture, increased investment in infrastructure for efficient water and sanitation services delivery, and fair allocation of water among different users (United Nations Global Compact 2014, 2–3).

(7.) Since 2010, the 2030 Water Resources Group managed by the International Finance Corporation has led multi-stakeholder pilot country programs for water policy reforms in several countries (2030 Water Resources Group 2009, I).