Stakeholder dialogue, participation, and partnership have become mainstream concepts in international development policy, in particular in the field of corporate social responsibility (CSR). However, the accountability of multi-stakeholder initiatives on CSR to their intended beneficiaries in the global South is increasingly questioned. This paper looks at how the agendas of some initiatives in the areas of ethical trade and sustainability reporting are driven by what Western NGOs push for, what large companies consider feasible, and what consultants and accountants seek to provide. It describes how the resulting practices and discourse restrict change and marginalise alternative approaches developed by Southern stakeholders. It is argued that enthusiasm for stakeholder dialogue, participation, and partnership in CSR matters, and beyond, needs to be reconceived with democratic principles in mind. ‘Stakeholder democracy’ is offered as a conceptual framework for this endeavour, and some recommendations are made for NGOs, companies, and governments.
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