The political strategy of forum shopping is an under-researched but highly relevant concept for understanding the dynamics of global governance. Forum shopping involves actors seeking to realise their policy objectives within preferred policy arenas on the basis of an arena’s particular governing characteristics. We examine the forum shopping behaviour of the key states, business and non-governmental groups in regard to three policy issues: labour standards, intellectual property rights, and chemicals regulation. Our preliminary analysis is centred around the questions of why actors forum shop, the circumstances in which forum shopping enables actors to succeed in promoting their interests, and the impact of forum shopping on the effectiveness of global governance. Our cases suggest an arena’s membership, issue mandate, decision making procedures and enforcement capacity are the key characteristics that shape actors’ arena preferences. Another important implication is that a multi-arena global governance system comprised of duplication and overlap in issue mandate (rather than large multilateral single issue arenas) may be beneficial for advancing actors’ policy agendas. The overarching goal of the article is to spark more systematic research into the often practiced but under-theorised phenomenon of forum shopping.