Trust Platforms: The Digitalization of Corporate Governance and the Transformation of Trust in Polycentric Space

30 Pages Posted: 30 Aug 2021

See all articles by Larry Catá Backer

Larry Catá Backer

The Pennsylvania State University (University Park) – Penn State Law

Date Written: July 28, 2021


This contribution explores the growing interest in transnational corporate accountability, arising out of the need to build trust in corporations. Emerging cultures of accountability and compliance, among other things, has driven the digitalization of corporate governance and the emergence of a polycentric order of transnational regulations (e.g., human rights due diligence instruments). While widely recognized conceptions of trust inform systems of decentralized, digital governance, the principles and practices of such governance recasts trust and its relationship to accountability within corporations. This contribution argues that this leads to “contradictions” between traditional systems of faith in the trustworthiness of the enterprise and its principal (human) and the emerging faith in the trustworthiness of systems of accountability from which enterprise trust can be objectively measured against an ideal-type, data-based metric. Trust in enterprises, then, become a function of trust in trust accountability systems. Competition among such trust accountability systems and the norms from which trust is measured produces polycentric regimes of transnational corporate accountability, and of measuring trustworthiness, that simultaneously enhances (through systems of exogenous objectification) and undermines (through incompatible standards and methods of trustworthiness) enterprise trust. Part I describes the problem and the challenge, one that arises from the near simultaneous shift in cultural expectations about trust from trust in character to trust in measurement, and the rise of cultures of data driven technologically complicated systems of compliance and accountability. Part Two then considers the transformation brought by efforts to respond that that challenge. These consisted of three closely interlinked trajectories: digitalization, complex compliance-accountability regimes, and the emergence of platforms as the space within which collectives of consumers and producers of governance and trust related data could interact. Part three then examines the consequences of the structures that have emerged as a product of those trajectories. The first is the constitution of polycentric governance standards around which entities must now navigate and the second is the detachment of trust from the entity that is its subject. That is, it considers the rise of trust platforms as the autonomous pint of engagement through which the trustworthiness of corporate governance is negotiated.

Keywords: platforms, digitalization, trust, corporate governance, accountability, compliance, polycentricity, transparency

JEL Classification: D21, D63, D64, K22, K42, M14,P48, P51

Suggested Citation

Backer, Larry Catá, Trust Platforms: The Digitalization of Corporate Governance and the Transformation of Trust in Polycentric Space (July 28, 2021). Available at SSRN: or

Larry Catá Backer (Contact Author)

The Pennsylvania State University (University Park) – Penn State Law ( email )

Lewis Katz Building
University Park, PA 16802
United States

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