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The anti-sweatshop movement has been revitalizing and exploring a new form of localized transnational collective action: A Peoples’ Tribunal on the Minimum Living Wage and Decent Working in Cambodia. The idea of People’s Tribunals is not new and has originated in the human rights area. Among the first international People’s Tribunals, which examines and provides judgments on violations of human rights was the Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal founded in 1976 in Italy. Since then People’s Tribunals have spread as an action repertoire for human rights activists through a range of countries in order to promote justice and mobilize victims of human rights abuses independently of the state judiciary. Its goals have been about popularizing the notion of justice; educating the public; encouraging debate on human rights issues and democratizing legal processes.  Therewith it is a legalistic, but soft instrument to provide justice in cases where the state has failed to do so.

In the area of labor rights violations, it is a rather new adoption of this instrument. In Cambodia it has been used to investigate the violation of labor rights, in particular the poverty payment. Its aim it to improve the working conditions and raise the wage level in in the Cambodian garment industry.

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Interdisciplinary workshops are always a good opportunity to discuss and exchange differences and shared perspectives on a common empirical research field. Such a workshop (“Transnational private regulation in the areas of environment, security, social and labor rights: theoretical approaches and empirical studies”) took place in Berlin, at the Freie University, at the end of January. Researchers of various backgrounds including sociology, international relations, industrial relations,  organizational studies and political science came together to discuss global developments and its local implications of transnational private governance in various empirical fields (labor standards, environmental standards and security)

The role of transnational companies and private actors in governance beyond borders is approached and conceptualized from a variety of theoretical and empirical angles. A shared language and common understanding has not yet fully emerged. To start this interdisciplinary exchange across different governance fields three set of questions have been discussed at this workshop: Read the rest of this entry »

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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Prior to a seminar I hosted at the MPIfG in July with Milford Bateman, I published a review of his book Why Doesn’t Microfinance Work? (reproduced by several other sites). When the book was released this summer, it sold out its first print run within four weeks. It was the basis for an article (with a great cartoon) in the Dutch daily De Pers. It introduced a wider audience to the fundamental doubts surrounding microfinance. It also seems to have made Milford Bateman a fair share of enemies.

My review was resoundingly positive, since I felt that the book expressed growing concerns about microfinance’s impacts and legitimacy with great clarity and poignancy. What astonishes me is the type of criticism and hostility which has greeted the book. While the book sparked some general neutral publicity, the in-depth reviews ranged from cautious praise for raising important questions to heavy-handed attacks on Bateman’s academic integrity.

Some recent reviews:

negative
David Roodman @ cgdev: “I am allergic to (as I perceive it) sloppy thinking …Bateman’s passion seems to lead him to select and distort evidence. I find it hard to fully engage with a piece of analysis in which the conclusions so seem to drive the evidence … I don’t think you need to read this book.”
Liz Blase @ wokai: “We urge that readers not fall prey to Bateman’s infatuation with short-term profits.” (??)
positive
Duncan Green @ oxfam: “A passionate polemic that takes on a development shibboleth – sometimes it feels as though doubting microfinance is as heretical as criticising Nelson Mandela. But Bateman does so.”
Phil @ this blog: “The first book critical book capable of crossing the border between academia and the lay world … The proverbial ‘book’ on why (this) microfinance is not an adequate response to poverty.”
in between
Malcolm Harper @ microfinance focus: “Few readers will agree with everything in it, and most will be irritated by some of it. All of us, however, should think carefully about what Bateman writes.
H-D Seibel: “There is nothing subtle about Bateman’s arguments… The one thing that concerned me was him framing his argument as a war of ideologies… Despite my reservations, Bateman’s book is a must read.” (published on devfinance)
Fehmeen @ microfinance hub: “While some welcome this opportunity to re-think the basic microfinance model, others deem some of his claims exaggerated… We think this book is a worthy effort.”

To me, the intensity of the reactions to Bateman’s book is a gauge for measuring just how worried many in the development industry have become about their poster child. I get the impression that a systematic critique of microfinance touches highly sensitive nerves with many researchers and industry insiders, whose reaction is to challenge the person rather than the argument. Read the rest of this entry »

This post is provided by our “guest blogger” Bernhard Brand. Bernhard Brand works as research assistant at the Institute of Energy Economics at the University of Cologne. This contribution is the first of a series of critical reviews of transnational economic governance arrangements, based on an analysis of policy reports undertaken by graduate students of Sigrid Quack’s seminar on Transnational Economic Governance during the summer term 2010.

The Siemens corruption scandal of the year 2007 was one of the largest bribery cases in the economic history of Germany. It ended with a number of (suspended) jail sentences for high-ranking executives and a painful €2.5 billion penalty to be paid by Siemens for running an extensive worldwide bribery system which helped the Munich-based company to win business contracts in many foreign countries, as for example in Russia, Nigeria or Greece. Interestingly, if the bribery case just had happened a few years before, there wouldn’t have been any sentence at all for Siemens: Until 1999, the practice of bribing officials and decision makers in foreign countries was not considered a crime in Germany. And even worse: The German law allowed companies to deduct bribes from their tax declarations – under a tax law provision ironically termed “useful payments” (in German: “nützliche Aufwendungen”). This incentive for the German industry to perform corruption in the international business became abolished under the pressure of the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention. The convention criminalizes the so-called ‘foreign bribery’, the act where a company from one country bribes officials of a ‘foreign’ country.  Germany, as well as the other OECD members had to align their legislation to the new OECD standards, enabling their courts to punish the person or entity who offers the bribe – even if the bribing action originally took place somewhere else in the world. Read the rest of this entry »

Many believe that global markets are a new phenomenon. But that is not the case. Not only had the late 19th century already reached a level of global trade and financial flows which approached that of today, but there have been long distance trading circuits across jurisdictions and continents which date back as far as medieval times. In the 12th and 13th century, the Italian city states of Venice and Genoa maintained long distance trading networks that reached as far as North Africa and Central Asia, providing the basis for ‘global’ markets for luxury goods, such as spices and silk.  In the North, the Hanseatic League formed a federation of trading cities along the coastlines of the Northern and Baltic Sea generating cross-border markets for bulk goods such as fish, salt, grain and wood.

These markets were transnational in the sense of their interconnecting economic actors from multiple political jurisdictions (i.e. kingdoms and city states) across the world into a multilayered system of rules and regulations which governed their exchange relationships.

Economic historians have produced a rich literature on these markets which is also instructive for economic sociologist studying the governance of contemporary ‘global’ markets. In a recently published article I combine both approaches to analyse how key coordination problems were resolved in medieval long-distance trading systems.

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This entry is part of a series in which we discuss concepts and phenomena in the field of transnational studies.

The major critique of cosmopolitan sociology on empirical research in social sciences is its methodological nationalism. Methodological nationalism means that most studies define (explicitly or implicitly) the nation state as the container of social processes. Thus the nation state unit is the key-order for studying major social, economic and political processes. One of the major critics of such a perspective, Ulrich Beck, argues that it is wrongly based on assumptions of the congruence of political, cultural and social borders. The nation state perspective doesn’t capture transnational linkages, structures or identities.

But how can one analyze transnational phenomena empirically? It is a fundamental problem of research on transnationalism that most data sets and strategies of social inquiry are nation state bound. That makes inferences on transnational phenomena difficult or impossible. This methodological problem is therefore fundamentally linked with sociological concept formation, which is  – from a cosmopolitan perspective –   nation state bound and thus unable capture the multi-dimensional process of change.  Or as Beck and Sznaider formulate it:

The decisive point is that national organization as a structuring principle of societal and political action can no longer serve as the orienting reference point for the social scientific observer (Beck and Sznaider 2006).

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Governance across borders or transnational governance looks at rule making, standard setting and institution building across borders. Empirically one can see the rise of a variety of patterns of regulatory governance. But transnational regulations are only one aspect of a whole field of transnational phenomena. Social life has always crossed, connected or transformed borders and boundaries.  Social processes have been transborder even before the spread of the nation-state system, as well as states also got shaped transnationally. Hirst and Thompson for example analyse different historical forms of transnational markets and long before the rise of the nation state.

Other transnational processes include transnational social movements, migration, communities, citizenship but also religion or various cultural practices (see for example Olgas entry on transnational ideas and local culture). In Europe, progress has been made specifically in regards to transnational phenomena within the European union, on debates about a European governance, public sphere or a collective identity (see for example also the new European Journal of Transnational Studies ) .

So far, there is no real discipline of transnational studies, but only a fragmented body of scholarship across sub-fields of sociology and other social science disciplines. To get into dialogue with and to learn from the insights of some of these studies, some general questions on transnationalism should be raised here, in a new series on transnational studies: What does it imply to analyze the global, national, local through transnational lenses for different approaches? Which phenomena are identified as transnational, how and why? How are the phenomena analyzed, how are flows or identities that cross certain spaces captured? How do transnational theories or theory building interact with traditional theories? And finally, what do all these different perspectives, including the governance research have in common, where are the biggest differences and what can we learn from each other? These are only some of the questions, which I think are important to discuss in order to be able to better understand transboundary social processes.

(sabrina)

The diamond trade hasn’t exactly enjoyed a great reputation over the past years. Not least thanks to Hollywood movies like Blood Diamond, these gems are inextricably percieved as covered with the blood spilt in civil wars all over Africa.

But diamonds are also a key export of many poor African nations.

Despite some initial progress being achieved by the Kimberly Process certification scheme, diamonds’ persisting bloody reputation isn’t exactly undeserved. Many still find their way into the world market, dominated by De Beers, from appalling sources.

Groups like Amnesty International and One Sky have criticised the certification scheme as lacking impartial, obligatory monitoring. Global Witness, an NGO specialising on the link between natural resource exploitation and violence reported the scheme to be failing to address issues of non-compliance, smuggling, money laundering and human rights: “The clock is running out on Kimberley Process credibility.”

Other problems include that diamonds from conflict-ridden Zimbabwe are still considered legitimate under the Kimberly Process; and the mind boggles as to what real effects membership of countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo may have on the ground. Several civil wars currently rage within the Congo’s boundaries.

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For this year’s Wikimania (26-28 August, Buenos Aires) I submitted an abstract of a paper comparing transnationalization processes and community relations of Creative Commons and Wikimedia. In this series I present some work in progress.

While the now famous online-encyclopedia Wikipedia was founded shortly before Creative Commons in 2001, its organizational carrier – the Wikimedia Foundation – was founded about half a year after Creative Commons had formally launched its first set of alternative copyright licenses in December 2002. Both organizations share the fundamental vision of creating and promoting a global “commons” of freely available digital goods. Wikimedia hosts a framework of hardware (webspace and bandwith), software (the wiki-engine “MediaWiki”) and legal rules (copyleft licenses) for several projects of commons-based peer production such as Wikipedia, Wikibooks or Wiktionary. Creative Commons, in turn, delivers a set of open content licenses to – not only, but also – legally enable and foster such commons-based peer production projects as put forward by Wikimedia.

Interestingly, independent from one another, both organizations very soon after their foundation started to transnationalize by developing a transnational network of locally rooted organizations. In a way, this strategic coordination of legally and financially independent organizations resembles what is called “strategic networks” in the realm of business research (see, for example, Gulati, Nohria and Zaheer 2000). Their strategies of building such an organizational network were however quite distinct. 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.
September 2019
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