Explaining early adoption: business and human rights

Mr. Ian Higham

Some governments are quick to adopt policy innovations. Others lag behind, and some never adopt the innovation at all. While scholars have repeatedly noted this variation in diffusion studies, we know little about what motivates these first movers. This paper asks what motivates a national government to become an early adopter of a new type of policy and bridges the gap by explaining variation in the timing of governments' adoption of policies for business and human rights. This paper proposes a new theoretical framework for analyzing early adoption by combining the limited extant scholarship on policy pioneering with theories of international cooperation. Using a novel dataset, I test the theoretical framework and its derivative hypotheses using logistic regression analysis. This paper also makes an empirical contribution to the burgeoning business and human rights literature by mapping out the global state of play of business and human rights policies. The United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights provided policy prescriptions for states to manage the human rights impacts of their firms. Some governments were quick to implement the Guiding Principles, and these early adopters are a surprisingly eclectic group. Meanwhile, many governments that one would expect to have implemented the guidelines lag behind and have done little or nothing to regulate the human rights impacts of companies. I find that a combination of governments' specific domestic political and international reputational concerns are the best determinants of the decision to adopt early.