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Regular version of the site

Book chapter

Global Trade Governance and Informal Voluntary Standards: the Socio-normative Analysis of Legitimacy of the ISO

P. 71-101.

This chapter focuses on the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) standards. Companies generally voluntarily adopt those in order to carry a "social" license to operate, as today it is the way to underline their good governance credentials. In transboundary trade transactions, obtaining such social licenses can be crucial for importing and exporting firms alike, as well as for countries within which those firms operate.

International technical standards of ISO are usually developed by professional associations, i.e. accredited standard-setting bodies that provide scientific and quality assurances, acting as professional facilitators of a consensual process. However, since the late 20th century, the ISO and similar global standard-setting entities also - and indeed increasingly - provide process assurances. Both growing demand for and supply of those new mechanisms appear to reflect ever-greater "race to efficiency", hence an increasing need for a readily available and easily used data, concepts, and knowledge to inform and legitimise transnational decision-making bypassing any national or international public structure. The puzzle of this story is that, unlike simple indicators, the standards addressed here are likely to act as global normative benchmarks, a universal social reference, most of the time containing obligations and backed by sanctions, though non-legal, or else "informal".