Session 9

Private governance in the making – a governance network analysis of the transition from niche governance towards convergence of sustainability initiatives and standards in the global gold sector
Jens Michael Heidingsfelder, Dimitar Zvezdov
Friedrich-Alexander University Erlangen-Nuremberg, Germany

As states struggle to address complex and cross-border sustainability challenges of the gold sector, multi-stakeholder initiatives implement private governance approaches to cope with this prevailing governance gap. We witness the nascence of a multitude of different sustainability initiatives in the gold sector that originally started as niche experiments to address selected sustainability issues. This simultaneous evolution of initiatives and standards created a fragmented governance landscape, causing confusion for traders and consumers as well as potential rivalry over market shares and trustworthiness. Therefore, several actors and international guidelines are now aiming to align the fragmented approaches and establish a harmonization of the initiatives.
While previous research has intensively focused on single, isolated sustainability initiatives, little is known about the transition process from fragmented niche governance towards alignment of standards, taking into account the interplay of actors in governance networks. How do competition and cooperation influence the desire for harmonization? What underlying motives are promoting or hindering harmonization efforts in the sector? This leads us to the central research question: How do networks of sustainability actors in the gold sector shape the transition from fragmented niche governance towards a harmonization of standards? To answer this question, we move away from the widespread case study approach of analyzing selected initiatives. Instead, we apply a mixed-methods approach that combines a network analysis, interviews with representatives from the initiatives and secondary data to shed light on the relations and drivers within the governance network that shape the transition towards a harmonization of standards. The paper generates a conceptual framework which offers a means to assess the transition from fragmented governance towards a convergence of sustainability governance. By doing so, we contribute to the wider theory building of network theories and sustainability governance, particularly focusing on the relevance of networks for shaping governance harmonization.