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Taking responsive regulation transnational: Strategies for international organizations


Correspondence: Kenneth W. Abbott, College of Law, Arizona State University, College of Law, PO Box 877906, Tempe, AZ 85287-7906, USA. Email:


Responsive Regulation (RR) introduced important new ways of thinking about regulation. But RR was designed for domestic settings in which a single agency had clear jurisdiction, full regulatory capacity, and extensive information, and could (contingently) deploy stringent sanctions against well-defined targets. Under globalization, many regulatory problems have shifted to the transnational arena, characterized by multiple regulators, public and private, with limited capacities, authority, and information, and modest sanctioning ability; globalized production also renders the targets of regulation diffuse and difficult to identify. RR holds important lessons for transnational regulation, but it must be adapted to these challenging conditions. Some components of transnational RR are already emerging, including numerous private and public–private schemes that regulate business through voluntary norms: “transnational regulatory standard-setting” (TRSS). Alone, however, TRSS schemes face serious limitations. Intergovernmental organizations (IGOs) are best positioned to “take RR transnational” by supporting and working with the nascent TRSS system. Two regulatory strategies are particularly promising: collaboration and orchestration. In “regulatory collaboration,” IGOs promote business self-regulation, much as in RR; they can escalate in response to defection by deploying reputational and market sanctions. In “orchestration,” IGOs support and steer intermediaries, including TRSS schemes and NGOs, which use their material and ideational capacities to regulate target behavior. Orchestration cumulates regulatory competencies, creates avenues of escalation, and provides many benefits of RR “tripartism.”