International Norms and Extra-Territorial Regulation: Are Citizens Willing to Tie the Hands of Home Corporations Abroad?

By Lukas RudolphDennis Kolcava (presenting author), Angelica Serrano, Thomas Bernauer

ETH Zürich, Switzerland


Governing the global commons is increasingly relying on new policy instruments. Non-binding soft law, issued by international organizations calls frequently calls upon nation states to enact unilateral policy — with national regulatory frameworks beginning to even extend national borders.

As most of these policies are supported by or enacted in Western democracies, We investigate public opinion and support for the implementation of soft law. Against the backdrop of a unique national referendum on the strict and enforcable implementation of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights in Switzerland for Swiss firms, we examine to what extent citizens want to tie the hands of their corporations abroad and what their motivations in doing so are. Based on a conjoint experiment (N=3010), we ask citizens to decide between highly stringent and unilateral (i.e. costly but effective) or low stringency and multilateral policy (i.e. not costly, but hardly effective) policy. Citizens’ show clear preference for the highly stringent and unilateral options, while correctly assessing their consequences — mechanism tests reveal that they perceive that such a policy would a) be more costly for Swiss firms and entail competitive disadvantages, but b) would be more effective in tackling the problem, be normatively appropriate behavior and reputation enhancing for Switzerland.

Exposure to an experimental vignette highlighting the international normative environment leads to even stronger demand for this high stringency policy.

Taken together, our results reveal that meaningful extra-territorial regulation finds considerable support in public opinion and that international norms can impact national policy making in a meaningful way.