Forum Shopping in Global Governance: Understanding States, Business and NGOs in Multiple Arenas

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.

Global governance is achieved through action in multiple arenas, which provide different opportunities for political action. An arena’s membership, issue mandate, decision making procedures and enforcement capacity should be taken into account by policymakers in assessing appropriate arenas for advancing their goals.
Entrepreneurial actors take advantage of ‘strategic inconsistencies’ in the characteristics of international policy arenas in order to progress or block the development of proposals through incremental decisions.
Policymakers must be alert to the likely use of forum shopping by other actors, including business actors and NGOs, which may advance or stymie the development of policy agendas in one arena via action in alternative arenas.