Polycentrism, Experimentalist Governance, and the Future of Business and Human Rights Regulation

The terminology of polycentrism has been used to justify the ‘soft law’ UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights over a potential ‘hard law’ business and human rights treaty. In parallel, an emerging literature seeks to answer critics of human rights treaties, on grounds of their failure to drive compliance, with reference to the experimentalist global governance thesis under which human rights treaties are effective when viewed as “dynamic, participatory, two-way systems”. This paper will analyse and contrast the polycentric and experimentalist governance theses, their insights and limitations. It will explore the bearing of each on current discussions concerning the choice between the UNGPs and a business and human rights treaty, and how they might be combined in an “experimentalist” business and human rights framework convention, while in closing endeavouring to situate these in broader current discussions on possible relationships between neoliberalism and human rights.