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Global Labour Governance

This thematic stream studies global mechanisms to improve labour standards and human rights protection through governance mechanisms that extend beyond the nation state

Governance Mechanisms for Promoting Global Respect for Human Rights and Labour Standards in the Corporate Sphere: A Research Agenda for Studying their Effectiveness

Corporate actors and activities span the globe, in a way that makes traditional State-based models of regulation often seem inadequate, particularly when attempting to protect and promote human rights and labour standards. There are increasing numbers of innovative regulatory mechanisms which attempt to go ‘beyond the State’ and to improve labour standards and human rights protection in relation to corporate activity, in a way that recognises the need to address the issue as a global problem.

For instance, scholars at Warwick who are members of the Global Research Priorities in International Development and Global Governance study mechanisms such as:

  • The UN "Protect, Respect and Remedy" Framework (the Ruggie Framework)
  • The Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh
  • International Trade Agreements which include provisions that protect and promote human rights and labour standards
  • ‘Private Standards’ such as Ethical Trading Initiative , and Social Accountability International, Fairtrade etc.

In relation to all of these fields, the trans-national nature of the regulatory efforts means that there is a great deal of ‘distance’ between the governance mechanisms and the workers (as well as broader communities) whose rights may be affected. Researchers have identified common and overlapping problems in developing methodologies for ascertaining the effectiveness of particular regulatory mechanisms. Researchers have also identified the fact that there is often a dearth of research which attempts to interrogate the actual impact that many of these mechanisms have on corporate actors and on the lives of differently positioned workers such as women and men, informal and formal workers and other key stakeholders.

We therefore envisage a programme of research which develops and applies frameworks for measuring the effectiveness of a variety of global governance mechanisms for promoting human rights and labour standards in the corporate sphere. It will also problematize the question of effectiveness by asking questions such as: Effective for whom, to achieve what ends, in what places, involving what actors and what power dynamics? As a result, the programme will develop awareness of the fact that particular mechanisms may be (in)effective in different ways and so will need to consider how particular initiatives fare in relation to e.g.:

  • Different labour standards and human rights issues (e.g. relating to ‘modern’ slave labour forced and coerced labour, domestic servitude, sexual and labour exploitation)
  • Different types of workers (e.g. racialised and gendered workers, ‘formal’ versus ‘informal’ workforces)
  • Different types of industries and corporations (e.g. Extractive industries as opposed to communication technologies or care providers; those faced with serious issues of reputational loss, and those who are not)
  • Different types of actors and processes (including how differentiated civil society actors participate; and questions of how various private actors interface with trans-national initiatives that often operate in the ‘public’ international sphere)
  • Different geographical locations (e.g. conflict, post-conflict, developing, developed etc.)

At the same time, global governance mechanisms do not operate in silos and corporations, States and civil society actors make strategic choices about engaging with particular regulatory mechanisms and not with others. Therefore we are also concerned to investigate the extent to which particular global governance initiatives operate in relation to each other and may undermine or reinforce each others’ effectiveness ‘on the ground’. We are therefore very interested in ‘every day’ practices.

Under the auspices of the Global Governance GRP, a project has already been developed which seeks to measure the effectiveness of labour standards contained in the EU’s trade agreements with third countries. A working paper is available here.


Stream Leads: Juliane Reinecke (WBS) and Jimmy Donaghey (WBS)