Water-Using Corporations as Agents Of Water Security, Management and Governance (2016)

This report looks at private sector actors who have power to affect water management and governance processes and their water security outcomes, and investigates their strategies, drivers, and legitimacy.

Primary Functions

  • Improve understanding of the agency of the largest water-using corporations in water security, management and governance at different scales and settings.
  • Contribute to developing the practice of water-using corporate engagement on water for sustainable and just outcomes.

Detailed Description


This dissertation explores the largest water-using corporations as agents of water security, management and governance. An analytical framework is constructed to investigate different forms of corporate power and strategies, their drivers and legitimacy to engage on water. The framework is applied to, and tested with, three case studies: 1) corporations dominating the water-intensive global agro-food value chains and networks, 2) corporations engaging in the development of corporate water stewardship principles and practices, and 3) corporations engaging in corporate water stewardship initiatives and projects in South Africa.

The corporations studied are found to have remarkable power to change water management and governance processes with implications for water security from global to local level. The corporations dominating the agro-food value chains and networks are identified to be part of a global ‘virtual water hegemony’, and corporations engaging in the development of the corporate water stewardship principles and practices to be contributing to an emerging transnational water governance regime. Predominantly driven by water scarcity, stakeholder pressure and public sector failure to act as the custodian of water resources, the corporations are shown to have become increasingly active and proactive in their water engagement strategies and tactics. Legitimacy of their engagement is found to be questionable, however. The corporations studied are yet to embrace water in their strategic cores. Equal participation, accountability and transparency are found to be in need of improvement in all the engagement processes in focus. Outcomes of the processes are shown to include much needed drive and resources for multistakeholder collaboration on water, but previous concerns of fragmentation, re-inventing wheels and private capture of public institutional processes and resources are also confirmed.

The findings of the dissertation show how water-using corporate engagement has become increasingly central to processes of water management and governance. If water security for all is to be reached instead of risk management for a few, however, corporate engagement demands further scrutiny and guidance. The analytical framework developed is proposed as one tool for this purpose. Policy efforts globally are recommended to be targeted towards ensuring equal participation, accountability and transparency in corporate water stewardship initiatives and broader processes of water management and governance where corporations engage.

Additional information






Topics & SDGs

WWF Mitigation

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