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Soft Law Oversight Mechanisms for Nanotechnology

By csep - Posted on 05 November 2012

TitleSoft Law Oversight Mechanisms for Nanotechnology
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2012
AuthorsAbbott, Kenneth W., Marchant Gary E., and Corley Elizabeth
JournalJurimetrics: The Journal of Law, Science and Technology
Date PublishedSpring 2012
ISSN Number08971277
KeywordsNanotechnology Policy and Regulation

Few observers doubt that regulatory oversight is now or will ultimately be necessary for at least some nanotechnology products and processes. Yet oversight need not take the form of mandatory command-and-control regulation: regulation increasingly follows a more flexible governance paradigm that incorporates private and public-private arrangements. This article reviews eleven public and private soft law oversight mechanisms for nanotechnology operating within the United States, the European Union and transnationally. It then provides a framework for assessing such mechanisms, considering the characteristic strengths and weaknesses of public and private approaches as well as the impact of specific design choices. We find that the existing mechanisms have a mixed record: many incorporate shallow commitments, few actively promote implementation, and none engage in significant monitoring or provide strong incentives for compliance. Accordingly, we call on public authorities -- as well as industry groups, research bodies, and other stakeholders -- to actively promote the emergence of new more effective soft law oversight mechanisms for nanotechnology and work to strengthen existing mechanisms.