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On the 24th of April 2018, many people around the world commemorated the over 1000 lives lost and the 1800 people injured during the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory in Savar, Dhaka, Bangladesh. The Global Garment Supply Chain Governance Project, together with King’s College London, took this date as an opportunity to bring together the community of international scholars investigating the consequences of this disaster for the governance of labor standards in the global garment industry. Given the high and immediate policy relevance of this topic, the conference was not just purely academic: several representatives from lead firms, supplier factories, policy makers and civil society actively participated in debating and interpreting the research results, and also constituted the strong opening panel. So what are the news for global governance?

A focal point of the debate was the Accord for Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, a five-year multi-stakeholder, transnational collective agreement co-signed by over 200 brands and the UNI and IndustriaALL global unions that not only commits brands to pay into a centrally organized safety inspection regime and to ensure continuity of orders for a limited period, but also demands the introduction of worker participation into safety committees in garment factories and provides for legally binding arbitration mechanisms if complaints are unresolved. While Mark Anner, Jennifer Bair and Jeremy Blasi argue that the Accord is not unprecedented, pointing to the “jobbers agreements” drafted between workers, contractors, and lead firms in the US apparel supply chain to ensure fair prices and stable orders in the earlier 20th century, most would agree that the Accord’s governance model is unique in a global supply chain context. Thus, it is often hailed as a solution to the industry’s ongoing and pressing problems regarding labour standards. The Accord departs most from previous initiatives in that it is a collective approach for addressing the “race to the bottom” dynamic of competing on the lowest possible labour standards characterizing the garmen industry since decade – an issue which lead firms only now begin to see as a collective action problem. In analyzing the history of the Accord, Juliane Reinecke and Jimmy Donaghey  point out, however, that the Accord was not crafted as a reaction to the Rana Plaza disaster. In fact, it existed previously as a memorandum of understanding on building and worker safety by two lead firms following earlier factory accidents – but other lead firms were not interested in signing it before the fatal factory collapse occurred. Does the Accord stand up to these hopes?

As argued by Miriam Neele, on the panel as Head of Signatory Engagement of the Accord, the Accord program has now covered approximately over 2 million workers in the Bangladesh garment industry and has ensured the remediation of about 85% of the factories covered by the Accord. Data on over 1000 garment workers collected by Naila Kabeer, London School of Economics, likewise indicates that there has been positive change on those issues that Western lead firms can influence, such as building safety and working time, at least in those factories covered by the Accord and by the US-driven Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety. Both Frank Hoffer (on the panel as representative of the new Action Collaboration Transformation initiative) and Giesela Burckhardt from the German NGO Femnet, however, stress that wages still need to go up – an issue that is simply not covered by the Accord. Additionally, there is some scepticism as to the actual scalability of the Accord model to other issues and other countries. The renewal of the Accord in Bangladesh has resulted in a rather slow process of getting brands to sign up to the agreement again, and the initiative has faced intense critique from various Bangladeshi stakeholders who think that the Accord has lost its purpose in Bangladesh. In a study conducted by Steve Frenkel (UNSW) and Chris Wright (University of Sydney) and myself shortly after the Rana Plaza disaster we found that intense stakeholder pressure was a main driver behind firms’ willingness to sign the Accord. In the absence of such immediate pressure, it seems that the majority of firms is only reluctantly willing to engage in stricter forms of labour standards regulation, such as those embraced by the Accord.

At least four additional problems must be noted. First, as argued by Kabeer, certain worker-related issues cannot be influenced by Western brands. Most importantly, these are the (mis-)behaviour of supervisors and the still very low level of unionization and worker representation in Bangladesh. Here local stakeholders are called upon to bring forward changes. Second, as repeatedly noted by Dorothee Baumann-Pauly and her colleagues from the NYU Stern school of business, the current safety schemes has at best created “islands of compliance” in which some of the best, most well-financed factories are getting better, while the smaller, already struggling factories remain off the radar – and have notoriously poor standards. Third, the Accord remains an auditing tool – and audits can easily turn into mere reputational devices for lead firms rather than creating actual accountability and liability for brands and their auditors, as Carolijn Terwind, lawyer at the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR), highlighted on our panel. Fourth, evidence from a survey on 150 factory managers in Bangladesh conduced by Shahidur Rahman (BRAC University) and Kazi Mahmudur Rahman (ULAB) suggests that lead firms rarely support factory’s remediation efforts financially. Thus, while suppliers value continuity of orders, they feel heavily squeezed between ongoing price pressure exerted by lead firms and increased demands regarding infrastructure and working conditions.

An important structural condition must be noted though, which in my view is a core boundary condition for seeing continued improvements in labour standards in Bangladeshi garment factories: unless digitalization is able to replace manual labour in this industry, large volumes of garment production will remain in Bangladesh because, as China continues to reduce its capacities, no other country is to date able to absorb the high demand for garment production. In this sense, the race to the bottom is currently on hold – an unforeseen opportunity for stakeholders in the West as well as in Bangladesh to continue pressing for stricter regulations and better labour standards in this industry.

Screenshot of the impressively animated header image of »Orders Beyond Borders«

Recently the Global Governance Unit at the WZB Berlin Social Science Centre led by Michael Zürn has launched a new blog entitled “Orders Beyond Borders“. The first post features an Interview with Michael Zürn, in which he also reflects on the rationale behind starting a research blog:

In particular, the Blog is meant to provide a means for those who are interested in our research to get the main messages without having to read 400-page books that some of the doctoral students write after finishing their PhDs. Secondly, the Blog is meant to be a way that we can convey some of the practical and political ideas that follow from the type of work we are doing. […] In addition, it is important to us that the Blog also acts as a platform for interacting and engaging with the community.

The interview is also available as an audio file, thereby constituting the first episode of what is going to be a series of podcast interviews. Of course, the team behind the blog is also on Twitter under @obbblog. We are looking forward to reading more from our fellow bloggers and recommend subscribing to it immediately.

(leonhard)

Guest blogger Rolf Künnemann reports on new directions for cross-border governance and the challenge of realising Extraterritorial Obligations (ETOs) for human rights.

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Human rights and states’ obligations are two sides of the same coin. While states are based on their territories, many of their human rights obligations go beyond borders. These “extraterritorial obligations” are increasingly recognised as essential for human rights to provide the foundations of an international people-based political and legal order.

The ETO movement argues that a focus on human rights beyond borders is key to effectively addressing burning issues like the globalized destruction of ecosystems and the climate, the depletion of resources to the detriment of future generations, the dysfunctional international financie and trade system, the oppression of rural communities, ethnocide, the impunity of transnational corporations, and the human rights accountability of intergovernmental organisations. Read the rest of this entry »

“[T]he promoters of micro-credits promise to deliver us from poverty and emancipate women. In fact, it is the opposite that happens: we find ourselves trapped in a spiral of over indebtedness, launching infeasible micro-projects that, instead of keeping our heads above water, push us deeper into poverty, stress, humiliation and violence. We are at the end of our tether!

This is part of a declaration recently issued by women from fourteen countries, gathered in a meeting of African activists in Bamako, Mali, in November. Read the rest of this entry »

The increasing number of collective open access deals either on the national level (e.g., Dutch open access deals) or between publishers and research institutions (e.g., agreement of the Max Planck Society with Springer) has some very practical consequences for scientific publishing processes. On a macro level, these deals make research strong countries and institutions stronger: their papers are better accessible worldwide with respective consequences for reception and citation counts.

But there are also consequences on the micro level. For example, in co-authored papers, the question of who acts as “corresponding author” suddenly becomes of utmost importance. Only if the corresponding author is situated at an institution with such an open access deal then an article will be immediately accessible to anyone worldwide. And it is the corresponding author who has to sign copyright forms on behalf of all the authors to “seal the deal”.

Publishers pushing for Non-Commercial Clause

What I have learnt only very recently is that publishers try to retain as much rights a possible even in cases where researchers are eligible for open access publication. SAGE Publications, for instance, tries to convince – if not force – authors to opt for a Creative Commons license with the restrictive non-commercial (NC) clause (full form as a PDF):

This is troublesome for a whole bunch of reasons: Read the rest of this entry »

Today I received a surprising and pleasant e-mail by Dirk Bezemer from University of Groningen in the Netherlands. He had come across the recently published article of Sebastian Botzem and myself on “Financialization as strategy: Accounting for inter-organizational value creation in the European real estate industry” (see also a summary of key points). And he not only read the paper but also chose to use it as a teaching case.

And I am very grateful that Dirk agreed to sharing his teaching questions on this blog (DOC/PDF), thereby effectively turning a research paper into a teaching case.

Read the rest of this entry »

On Tuesday, September 26, I was invited to speak at the Digital Europe Working Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D) in the European Parliament on the issue of copyright reform. Current debates circle mostly around two new articles proposed by the European Commission. Article 11 proposes to introduce a new neighbouring right for press publishers, following the (so far mostly failed) examples of Germany and Spain. Article 13, in turn, wants platform owners to implement upload filters as a means of copyright enforcement, thereby undermining liability exceptions of the EU E-Commerce directive.

The key point I was trying to make was that targeting large platforms such as Google and Facebook with ever stricter copyright regulation won’t hurt them but rather their competition and anyone else. Even now we can observe that, due to its market power, Google was able to more or less write its own copyright rules for its video platform YouTube. Actually, this had also been necessary, given the misalignment between European copyright regulation and every day online practices based (e.g., creating and sharing user-generated content) upon new digital technologies.

As a consequence, YouTube effectively functions as a transnational rights clearing center and has brought back registration requirements to copyright law in action. However, rights clearing only works on YouTube’s proprietary platform and with remuneration rules negotiated between Google and rights holders; this further strengthens Youtube’s already dominant position in the market place Introducing an upload filter requirement would only further strengthen Google’s market position, making it even more difficult for rights holders to negotiate fair remuneration.

As a way forward, I proposed introducing harmonized and remunerated exceptions for remix and bagatelle uses instead. These would be practical not just for Google but also for anyone else and help to re-align copyright law in the books with copyright law in action.

Please find a video (slides and audio only) and my slides below: Read the rest of this entry »

Back in 2013 at the Academy of Management Annual Meeting in Orlando, Florida, Jakob Kapeller and I had received the prestigious Carolyn Dexter Best International Paper Award for an article comparing open strategy-making in the cases of Wikimedia and Creative Commons. Today, several rounds of revision later, we are proud to present the article “Open strategy-making with crowds and communities: Comparing Wikimedia and Creative Commons” being published in the journal Long Range Planning. The abstract of the paper reads as follows: Read the rest of this entry »

Sigrid, Markus and I have finally been able to publish another paper on the case of Creative Commons. In a longitudinal analysis we compare three embedded cases of transnational standard-setting: (1) license porting, (2) license versioning and (3) license interpretation. The article “Open to Feedback? Formal and Informal Recursivity in Creative Commons’ Transnational Standard-Setting” has been published in Global Policy and the abstract reads as follows:

In this article, we examine how non-membership organizations that claim stewardship over a transnational public or common good, such as the environmental or digital commons, develop combinations of formal and informal recursivity to develop and maintain regulatory conversations with their dispersed user communities. Based on a case study of Creative Commons, an organization that developed what have become the most widely used open licenses for digital content, we show how rhetorical openness to informal feedback from legitimacy communities in different sectors and countries can improve the feasibility and diffusion of standards. However, as long as the standard-setter’s methods of making decisions on the basis of such feedback remains opaque, its communities are likely to raise accountability demands for more extensive ex post justifications.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Grenfell Tower symbolises how social housing across Europe has suffered under austerity and the new financial calculus of many local governments (Image: ChiralJon, CC BY 2.0)

Guest post by Sebastian Möller

The crisis of housing in the UK became internationally apparent with the horrific Grenfell Tower fire in June 2017. British cities, London in particular, lack affordable homes, and the condition of the social housing stock in many local authorities at best leaves much to be desired, and at worst is hazardous for the health and life of residents. Grenfell is exemplary for the devastating state of social housing, reminiscent to some of the Victorian era, when Friedrich Engels wrote his impressive ethnography on the living conditions of workers in England. Read the rest of this entry »

The Book

Governance across borders: transnational fields and transversal themes. Leonhard Dobusch, Philip Mader and Sigrid Quack (eds.), 2013, epubli publishers.
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