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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.”

Guest blogger Nina Engwicht discusses a controversial performance art project in Berlin aiming to help Syrian refugee children.

Arrival of Jewish refugee children, port of London, February 1939

(Wikimedia; CC-BY-SA-3.0-de)

“1 in 100” is the slogan of a nightly ironic talent show currently put on in Berlin by the activist performance artists of the group “Center for Political Beauty” (Zentrum für Politische Schönheit). One in a hundred Syrian children will be saved, is the promise. In order to help the German government decide which children should be rescued, the audience is requested to vote for a child they would like to see rescued from the civil war: “1 in 100! One child wins. The others can go on dying. (weitersterben).

The artists urge their audience not to make light of their responsibility, but to use their right to vote. The show’s web site (http://voting.1aus100.de/) displays pictures and videos of each child, many of them badly hurt, some of them crying, some of them starving. The video of “child number 2” shows a boy desperately crying after a bomb attack. From off-camera we hear a man, presumably his father, saying “My God. My God. My children are dead. My children are dead”, while the boy cries for his brothers and sisters. The campaign’s Facebook page presents all these candidates and informs readers about their respective chances: “Child Nr. 61 only has two votes. Call now!”
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Several contributions in this blog have been dealing with different examples of the transnational mobilization of labor rights by social movement organizations and trade unions, targeting transnational companies, international organizations or states to introduce and enforce core labor rights and accept freedom of associations (e.g. the Asian FLoor Wage Campaign, People’s Tribunals or the Asia-Europe People’s Forum). There are other interesting blogs which discuss the development of chances and limits of transnational labor solidarity and transnational labor rights activism under conditions of global restructuring ( transnational labor) or country specific cases (e.g. China).

Different blog entries give interesting examples of single incidents and their immediate consequences. However, sometimes they tell little about how the different strategies relate to each other and what kind of changes they produce when looking at them over longer period of time. In my recent paper (“pathways of transnational activism”), I try to develop an analytical framework which allows for analyzing the dynamic interplay between activism, transnational institutions, and domestic contexts. It integrates insights from social movement research on transnational collective action and insights from institutional theorists on institutional interactions. I introduced three concepts which intend to connect the ideas that transnational activists – social movements, trade unions and worker alike when they engage in transnational contention – mobilize in multiple arenas at once, addressing multiple targets (state and private) therewith changing the environment (both national and domestic) in which they operate: Read the rest of this entry »

Last week at the International Studies Association Conference in Toronto, Marie Langevin (Ottawa) and I hosted a panel bringing together Northern and Southern perspectives on what may be termed poverty finance*. These perspectives surprisingly only rarely speak to each other, and our panel demonstrated how important and fruitful such a conversation is. Phil Cerny chaired the panel “Fringe Finance and Financial Inclusion”, and Rob Aitken (Alberta) – one of the few exceptional researchers whose work spans both the worlds of Northern and Southern poverty finance – acted as discussant of the papers.

The papers…

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This blog is provided by our guest blogger Kristen Hopewell. Kristen Hopewell is an Assistant Professor at the University of British Columbia, Canada and has been a visitor of the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies in 2013.

After protracted and contentious negotiations among trade ministers in Bali last month, the WTO announced agreement on a new global trade deal.  The so-called “Bali package” is being touted as an historic achievement and a victory for the WTO.

However, such claims should be met with considerable skepticism.  In reality, the deal stuck at Bali is of limited consequence and the hype surrounding it is intended to mask the deeper failure of the Doha Round. Read the rest of this entry »

(*don’t know your customer)

Truth in advertising has never been very highly valued in the microfinance sector. Know-your-customer (KYC) sadly is also a much-espoused but rarely-heeded principle. The current promotional video for on-line lending platform Kiva shows that Kiva cares about neither.

This most widely known online microlending platform once claimed it facilitated person-to-person (P2P) microending. After the New York Times debunked that as a deceptive illusion in 2009, Kiva had to retract the claim, now fielding the (far clearer?) promise to “connect people through lending to alleviate poverty”. In fact, what Kiva does is merely lend your money for free to microfinance institutions (MFIs), which can then on-lend the money in whichever way they see fit, at interest rates somewhere between 20% and 100% APR. The joyful little cartoon video about “Pedro, a farmer who gets a loan through Kiva.org and transforms his business” doesn’t exactly make this clear.

But the main problem with Kiva’s video How Kiva Works is that the claimed impact of microloans is so absurd, it prompts serious questions about who at Kiva actually knows anything about what microfinance does. Let’s briefly look behind the cutesy imagery.

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It is assumed that the rise of CSR and the private regulation of labor rights in global supply chains help to improve working conditions in supplying factories. Incidences such as factory burning in Bangladeshis garment industry (one of which killed more than 1100 people) or suicides in China’s electronic industry seem to contradict such assumptions. But also scientific research portrays mixed results on how monitoring and certification impacts working conditions inside factories. This article takes a slightly different approach by asking on how the rise of CSR influences the development of domestic labor rights organizations in the People’s Republic of China. Read the rest of this entry »

The Brock Review – an online, open-access, interdisciplinary, peer-reviewed journal – has extended the deadline for academic articles and creative contributions engaging with “Sovereignty, Transnationalism, (Im)Mobility, and Desire”. The corresponding issue is going to address

the excesses, assemblages, resistances, and desires that circulate, coagulate, and shatter in the current global climate in which sovereign power (re)emerges in the fields of the biopolitical (CfP)

or, in my words: how (national) borders are constructed and challenged in light of current discourses of migration. While the call draws on a feminist vocabulary, it also invites proposals which take other theoretical positions or which oppose the perpective taken in the CfP.

The new deadline is 15 December, 2013. Manuscripts shall be complemented by an abstract and a short biography of the author.

(jiska)

Next week, 14-25 November 2013, there will be a workshop on transnational participation and social movement activism hosted by the Innovation in Governance Research Group /CESNOVA and the Centre for Research and Studies in Sociology, University of Lisbon

The workshop looks at the global spread of new action forms, practices, and the social construction and making of public participation. It asks what research on transnational participation can learn from insights of social movement studies and vice versa. As a presenter, I take the opportunity to call upon scientists to contribute to the construction of a transnational political sociology, were the division between research on participation and mobilization is overcome. I argue, that the field transnational political sociology is prone to overcome the barriers for the following reasons.

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It is a sad occasion which currently reminds us of questions about large-distance solidarity, transnational communities and commitment – topics which the workshop Mobility and Civil Society: How Social Commitment Takes Place addresses at the University Freiburg, Germany, in December.

During the last weeks, the second largest industrial tragedy in history has raised public awareness and debate about global inequality of international labor protection once again. The Rana Plaza complex close to Dhaka, Bangladesh, collapsed on April 24. As the rescue work around the former Tung Hai garment factory is still not completed, the reported death toll moves up to around a thousand people. Yesterday, eight people died in another fire in a garment factory in Dhaka.

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The Book

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