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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 »

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 »

Several contributions in this blog have discussed different forms of transnational labor rights activism, transnational modes of governing working conditions in global supply chains and their local consequences. In all these contributions, the structural reasons for a core concerns of workers – their low income (“poverty wages”) have not been discussed. In a very recent paper (“expanding repertoires of labor: multi-scalar counterstrategies in the Asian garment industry” which will be presented at the Wissenschaftszentrum Berlin on the 8th of October 2012), Jeroen Merk and Sabrina Zajak discuss the reasons behind poverty wages across Asian countries, reasons which make multi-scalar strategies of labor necessary to counter these problems. A brief summary shall be given next. Read the rest of this entry »

The theme of transnational governance has become again a hot topic at this years’ conference of the Society for the Advancement of Socio-Economics (SASE). The SASE’s 24th Annual Meeting is taking places at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge on June 28-30, 2012. It brings together academics from various disciplinary backgrounds to discuss the issue of “Global Shifts Implications for Business, Government and Labour”. One of the mini conference themes within SASE (“Regulating Labor and Environment: Beyond the Public-Private Divide“) explicitly deals with the dynamics and impacts of transnational governance arrangements and their relationship towards national regulation (see also  other recent blog entry).

This mini conference brings together a variety of contributions dealing with the question of how transnational standards are effectively enforced locally. While several contributions discuss the “top down” implementation of rules one panel in particular looks at the domestic mobilization of private and state regulation. The panel “mobilization of private and state regulation” addresses the question of the relationship between state and other forms of regulation by examining how citizens and communities make use of and try to mobilize national and extraterritorial judicial, non-judicial and/or voluntary mechanisms in order to seek redress for local grievances: Scholars present ample empirical evidence from different countries and continents including China, South Africa, India, Indonesia and Brazil and discuss the following questions:

How do local societal actors make use of and employ transnational and national regulation? When do local actors fail in their attempts to mobilize domestic and transnational regulation, and why? And in general, what do we learn about the role of domestic citizens, workers or non-governmental organizations for putting regulatory regimes into practice and broader contextual conditions which either enhance local redress mechanisms, or undermine their capacity to address grievances?

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Interregionalism  – multi-lateral meetings between different regions – has become an important aspect of governing global economic, financial and political issues. One such interregional exchange is the Asia-Europe Meeting, (ASEM). The 8th meeting just has been taking place in Brussels 5th-6th of October. ASEM is an informal dialogue bringing together Heads of Governments of the 27 EU Member States and 16 Asian countries, the European Commission and the ASEAN Secretariat.

The first ASEM meeting took place in Bangkok in 1996 in order to foster economic development and counterbalance the US influence in the Asian region. While these meetings are informal and non-binding, they are nevertheless aiming at strengthening economic and political relationships between countries. This year’s summit was dominated by the  financial and economic crisis. Under the heading ”More Effective Global Economic Governance” European and Asian officials agreed upon closer economic cooperation as well as financial coordination, and stressed the importance of sustainable growth and climate protection goals.

Such meetings – as international trade politics in general – suffers from the lack of democratic participation and support of citizens. Negotiations take place behind closed doors, the negotiation processes are intransparent and the parliaments are largely shut out of such processes. Consultative bodies and advisory committees are dominated by business interests or business affiliated lobbying groups.

As a response to the lack of transparency and democratic checks and balances, unions and NGOs found counter summit, the Asia-Europe People’s Forum (ASEF) where labor unions and social movements across Asia and Europe expressed their concerns about marketization and demanded  a “social and market regulatory dimension” of trade negotiations.

But in how far does challenging this global economic governance institution contribute to any kind of change?

At first sight it looks like a success story: Labor, environmental and human rights issues play a promomient role in the final ASEM declaration and the ASEM leaders promised a people-to-people approach. But the disappointment about the discrepancies between words and action is huge.

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Last week consumers around world learned about the place our mobile phones, ipods, iPads and PlayStations are produced: In production facilities in China, owned by a Taiwanese company called Foxconn, which produces for brands such as Apple, Hewlett-Packard, Samsung and Dell. Consumers learned that Foxconn is the biggest producer of electronic goods, employs over 400.000 workers in the Shenzhen province, 11 workers committed suicide this year. Consumers also learned that the official annual suicide rate in China is 13 per 100,000 workers. And Terry Gou, the founder of Foxconn recapitulates that his factory is below the official norm.

The rising protest inside China but also abroad which followed these tragic incidents, reveal a lot about the new dynamics in the fight for improvements of working conditions in Chinese factories: a dynamic which combines strong local critique, which does not leave the government untouched, with international outrage against the major customers.

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On January 23rd 2010 US China labor exchange met for the 6th time. The China Labor Exchange group has been meeting for 2 ½ years now. It is a meeting between some US labor union members and individuals with close ties to the Chinese labor movement. But despite the absence of official Chinese union representatives, these meetings present an important opportunity for exchange and mutual learning about the labor movement in the US and China, as well as for discussing potentials for future collaboration. This is of particular importance in a context, where high level union talks between the AFL-CIO (American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations) and the ACFTU (All-China Federation of Trade Unions) are not yet taking place.

What do Chinese and American workers have in common? Where are potentials for cooperation? Before summarizing the meeting, I first give some background information about the US labor movement and China to make clear why such a meeting is rather unusual for the US context.

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A lot of people – labor groups as well as compliance people – talk about empowering workers. In the Chinese context this often means educating people about their rights. This is usually done by training programmes. These training programmes have also become part of the demands of NGOs as well as company CSR rating agencies in Europe and the US, and therefore became the next step in the labour supply chain management agenda.

Whereas no big differentiations are made between training programmes, a whole industry is emerging in China, where consulting companies compete with buying companies’ own compliance programme and NGOs, offering a variety of different services. A recent study of the Sino-German Social Responsibility Project on training providers evaluated 29 providers, including nine international providers. Read the rest of this entry »

As a newcomer to blogging who recently learned that series are particularly “in”,  I decided to start my own series as well. I’m travelling China right now as a researcher, trying to better understand what all the people I’ve talked to in Germany mean by managing labor issues in the supply chain, compliance systems, training arrangements, etc.; but also seeking to understand how labour groups deal with the issue, form their strategies or give up strategising around it.

I’ll share my impressions here, so forthcoming posts in the series will be about compliance management, worker training, management training and how labor groups try to deal with this issues (spoiler: there is a big difference between Hong-Kong-based and mainland-China-based, and you often simply cannot name it, activism).

I’m talking to all kinds of people here in China: consultants, compliance managers, labor NGOs; I’ve taken part in an audit, a manager and a worker training.  As this is China I’m writing about, the first thing people tell you is: There is always more than one truth in China…

How to become a compliance manager in one day

Auditing has become an important business in labour supply chain management. Seminars and training courses are offered all over the world on how to become a successful auditor. But, actually, it doesn’t take you more than a day. It means having an open eye for obvious problems which are often so similar that you almost don’t need to go into the factory to know about them. Read the rest of this entry »

How can you win small and medium sized companies to take responsibility for their suppliers in China? Each year, this topic is brought up at the international toy fair by civil society organisations and the international toy association.

The challenge seems tremendous:  Big companies who source in developing countries usually establishe a whole department or CSR team, whereas smaller companies lack the capacity at home as well as the buying power abroad to influence factory behaviour.  Therefore it is even more surprising, that the toy industry, with a high share of medium sized enterprises has established an international, industry wide approach – But how do you get companies to join? 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.
December 2017
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