We have seen a worldwide increase in new nonstate, multi-stakeholder organizations setting standards for socially and environmentally responsible behavior. These standard-setting arenas offer new channels for political participation for NGOs. Scholars have drawn attention to the rise and the role of NGOs in global politics, but there is less research on the power and long-term implications of NGO participation in transnational multi-stakeholder standard-setting. This article analyzes NGOs within three such global organizations: the Forest Stewardship Council, the Marine Stewardship Council, and the International Organization for Standardization on Social Responsibility. Using a power-based perspective, we demonstrate the impact that NGOs can have on multi-stakeholder work. In doing so, we analyze four types of NGO power: symbolic, cognitive, social, and monitoring power. The article further emphasizes institutional, structural, and discursive factors within multi-stakeholder organizations that create certain challenges to NGO power and participation in the longer term.

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Author notes

* The research presented in this article has been made possible through funding by the Swedish Research Council for our joint project “Organizing Private Authority” as well as Boström's project “The Missing Pillar,” funded by the Swedish Research Council Formas. The work with this article has profited from collaboration with participants from the Missing Pillar research program, and we also wish to thank the anonymous referees that gave us constructive comments on earlier versions of the article.