Spring 2010 (24.1) Feature

Democracy in a Pluralist Global Order: Corporate Power and Stakeholder Representation

Whereas representative democratic mechanisms have generally been built around preexisting institutional structures of sovereign states, the global political domain lacks any firmly constitutionalized or sovereign structures that could constitute an analogous institutional backbone within a democratic global order. Instead, global public power can best be characterized as "pluralist" in structure. Some recent commentators have argued that if global democratization is to succeed at all, it must proceed along a trajectory beginning with the construction of global sovereign institutions and culminating in the establishment of representative institutions to control them. This paper challenges this view of the preconditions for global democratization, arguing that democratization can indeed proceed at a global level in the absence of sovereign structures of public power. In order to gain firmer traction on these questions, analysis focuses on the prospects for democratic control of corporate power, as constituted and exercised in one particular institutional context: sectoral supply chain systems of production and trade. It is argued that global democratization cannot be straightforwardly achieved simply by replicating familiar representative democratic institutions (based on constitutional separations of powers and electoral control) on a global scale. Rather, it is necessary to explore alternative institutional means for establishing representative democratic institutions at the global level within the present pluralist structure of global power.

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