A Sheep in Wolf’s Clothing? How the Illusion of Hard Law Makes Business More Responsible

Erin Leitheiser

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The growing complexity of global supply chains alongside increasing expectations of companies has resulted in a proliferation of private governance arrangements. These are largely voluntary and therefore operationalized through “soft law” (non-binding). However, after the horrific collapse of the Rana Plaza garment factory in Bangladesh, the resulting private governance initiative - the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh – chose a new tactic of using hard law to enforce the voluntary agreement, something that has been both heralded as a breakthrough and fundamental to companies’ compliance. Yet, nearly four years on, not a single court case has arisen. This paper investigates the novel approach of using hard law to enforce soft law, and in doing so aims to make three contributions. First, it sheds light upon this new and unexplored phenomenon by examining separating fact from fiction when using hard law to enforce soft law. Second, it explores the perception and performativity of this approach amongst business and theorizes about its implications for the firms’ role in society. Finally, it introduces the term “illusory law” as a way to explain and generalize about how this approach may be little more than a sheep in wolf’s clothing.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationProceedings of the Seventy-seven Annual Meeting of the Academy of Management
EditorsGuclu Atinc
Number of pages6
Place of PublicationBriar Cliff Manor, NY
PublisherAcademy of Management
Publication date2017
Article number11211
Publication statusPublished - 2017
Event77th Annual meeting of the Academy of Management: At the Interface - Georgia, Atlanta, United States
Duration: 4 Aug 20178 Aug 2017
Conference number: 77


Conference77th Annual meeting of the Academy of Management
Country/TerritoryUnited States
Internet address
SeriesAcademy of Management Proceedings


  • Corporate social responsibility
  • Regulation
  • Supply chain

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