The role of constructive ambiguity in creating an institution for collective action: the case of the Bangladesh Accord
Despite increasing interest in institution building for collective action, more attention has been placed on the processes of initiating collaborative agreements than on putting them into practice. This paper investigates a core challenge in institutionalizing collective action agreements: A degree of constructive ambiguity is often needed to find common ground and enable a collaborative agreement among multiple parties and stakeholders. But the initially enabling characteristics of constructive ambiguity may complicate the institutionalization of collaborative agreements when ambiguous commitments need to be put into practice. We examine the creation of a transnational private co-regulatory institution based on a 6-year study of the Bangladesh Accord for Fire and Building Safety, a collective action agreement between labour actors and over 200 companies to end the series of deadly accidents in the Bangladesh garment sector. Our findings reveal the dual role of constructive ambiguity and identify mechanisms of commitment renewal. Despite the ever-present risk of watering down the agreement during implementation we identify the mechanisms through which political conflict was productively leveraged to deepen parties’ interdependence – leading to spiralling commitment beyond parties’ initial self-commitment. Our findings advance a political process view of collective action that can explain the conditions under which private governance institutions may be successful in resolving transnational collective action problems.