The Hidden Contestation of Norms: Decent Work in the ILO and the UN
Max Planck Institute for Comparative Public Law & International Law (MPIL) Research Paper No. 2022-05
27 Pages Posted: 8 Mar 2022 Last revised: 15 Mar 2022
Date Written: March 7, 2022
The question of whether global norms are experiencing a crisis allows for two concurrent answers. From a facticity perspective, certain global norms are under crisis, given their world-wide lack of implementation and effectiveness. From a validity perspective, however, a crisis is not obvious, as these norms are not openly contested discursively and institutionally. In order to explain the double diagnosis (crisis/no crisis), this paper draws on International Relations research on norm contestation and norm robustness. It proposes the concept of hidden discursive contestation and distinguishes it from three other key types of norm contestation: open discursive, open non-discursive, and hidden non-discursive contestation. We identify four manifestations of hidden discursive contestation in 1) the deflection of responsibility, 2) forestalling norm strengthening, 3) displaying norms as functional means to an end, and 4) down- or upgrading single norm elements. Our empirical focus is on the decent work norm, which demonstrates the double diagnosis. Whereas it lacks facticity, it enjoys far-reaching verbal acceptance and high validity. Our qualitative analysis of discursive hidden contestation draws on two case studies: the International Labour Organization’s compliance procedures, which monitor international labor standards, and the United Nations Treaty Process on a binding instrument for business and human rights. Although both fora have different context and policy cycles, they pursue similar strategies of hidden discursive contestation.
Keywords: norms, robustness, contestation, decent work, United Nations, International Labour Organization
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