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The Garment Supply Chain Governance Project, which ended in June 2019, has recently published its final stakeholder report. After three years of collecting data from 79 lead firms from four countries, 152 factory managers in Bangladesh, 1.500 Bangladeshi garment workers and multiple stakeholders, we see a relatively coherent picture more than six years after the fatal Rana Plaza factory collapse: “Rana Plaza and the resulting public attention to building safety and worker standards in global garment supply chains has led to an enhanced climate for compliance, manifested in a range of new governance  models – most importantly the Accord and Alliance initiatives – and more longer-term, stable buyer-supplier relationships that have contributed to improved worker outcomes in some respects. These developments are direct responses to an unprecedented human disaster in the global garment industry which has triggered a positive collective response but not a systemic change towards more sustainable garment production. In fact, our results indicate the fragility of these gains, shedding light on the continued systemic challenges to sustainable labour standards faced by lead firms and suppliers alike.”

These results echo previous findings, not least those reported on this blog, regarding the continued challenge of raising the wages of garment workers and the need for further stakeholder pressure on garment brands and policy makers. In addition, our results provide nuanced insights regarding the current state of buyer-supplier relations and working conditions. For instance, we observe a form of “asymmetrical cooperation” between buyers and suppliers that is marked by increased power asymmetries between lead firms and suppliers on the one hand, but longer-term relations, mutual understanding, trust and continuity of orders on the other. The main problem in these relationships is the continued pressure on production prices, which undermines suppliers’ capacities for improving labor standards. Rather than sweatshops, we argue that many of the larger garment factories in Bangladesh constitute “hardship workplaces”, maked by improvements in workers’ outcome standards
(mainly better health and safety conditions, relative job security and improved social benefits) and process rights (mainly representation in worker participation committees), but continued problems regarding wages, working hours, abuse and management rejection of unions and collective bargaining.

Many of these developments can be tied to the Accord and Alliance initiatives whose presence has clearly created a stricter “climate for compliance” that ensures that basic standards are met. Yet, these initiatives have also further consolidated lead firms’ power and has mixed impacts at best for local labor actors. Overall, we fear that with the fading out or transitioning of these initiatives and a continued lack of stricter regulation of labor standards and human rights in global supply chains – on national and transnational levels – the improvements garment workers gained might be instable. Thus, we conclude: “As Rana Plaza starkly revealed, the safety and wellbeing of millions of workers and their families depend on the development of effective governance
solutions on multiple levels. Our research indicates that despite the progress made in recent years, further efforts will be necessary to help the millions of workers who depend on the garment industry for their livelihoods.”

Together with Rick Delbridge (Cardiff University, Wales), Markus Helfen (University of Innsbruck, Austria), Andi Pekarek (Melbourne University, Australia) and Charlene Zietsma (Pennsylvania State University, USA), I am co-organizing the upcoming Organization Studies Summer Workshop on the topic “Organizing Sustainably: Actors, Institutions, and Practices”.

Our main aim is to go beyond the common mantra of contemporary management scholars and practitioners that there is a ‘business case’ for sustainability towards examining what alternative forms of organizing can contribute to the sustainable usage of environmental, social, and economic resources in ways that avoid their degradation and exhaustion. While such models already do exist, they often do not spread or scale up, remaining exploitative business practices untouched on a larger scale.

The submission system is now open, and the full call can be found here: https://osofficer.wixsite.com/osworkshop?fbclid=IwAR3bV80vSvxpbVMF-IWiOiPYmR5Vv022ganthYq2xj6MBACe6R_Uxf2xvdE

We will also use this workshop to reflect about sustainable forms of organizing in our own scholarly community. As a temporary team of organizers meeting a long-standing routine of highly productive summer workshops, we are ourselves directly faced with the challenge of being unable to meet the “triple bottom line” of environmental sustainability (these are typically bad, because academics fly to conferences), social and economic impacts on the local community and employees (these in our case are good, because the venue has strong sustainability policies), and economic/academic “performance” (the summer workshops are usually seen as a highly productive meeting format). We will use the direct experience of this contradiction to reflect about our own scholarly practices during our workshop to hopefully develop some ideas for more sustainable forms of scholarship.

The Book

Governance across borders: transnational fields and transversal themes. Leonhard Dobusch, Philip Mader and Sigrid Quack (eds.), 2013, epubli publishers.
September 2019
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