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Keywords:

  • global governance;
  • institutional design;
  • norms;
  • policy diffusion;
  • United Nations Global Compact

Abstract

Norms shape policy when they get translated into concrete programs. What if a widely shared norm gets translated into a weak program? How might this influence the program's legitimacy? We examine these issues in the context of the United Nations Global Compact, a voluntary program that embodies the widely shared norm of corporate responsibility. While both international intergovernmental organization (IGO) and international non-governmental organization (INGO) networks support this norm, they differ on the adequacy of the Compact's program design. We explore how this tension affects the diffusion of the Compact across countries, which vary in their levels of embeddedness in IGO and INGO networks. Our findings suggest that embeddedness in IGO networks encourages adoption, while embeddedness in INGO networks discourages it. Our analysis provides important lessons for sponsors of voluntary governance mechanisms. Widespread support for a norm does not automatically ensure support for a program that claims to embody it.