Date: 09 Aug 2013
Private Regulation and Trade Union Rights: Why Codes of Conduct Have Limited Impact on Trade Union Rights
Rent the article at a discountRent now
* Final gross prices may vary according to local VAT.Get Access
Codes of conduct are the main tools to privately regulate worker rights in global value chains. Scholars have shown that while codes may improve outcome standards (such as occupational health and safety), they have had limited impact on process rights (such as freedom of association and collective bargaining). Scholars have, though, only provided vague or general explanations for this empirical finding. We address this shortcoming by providing a holistic and detailed explanation, and argue that codes, in their current form, have limited impact on trade union rights due to (i) buyers paying lip service to trade union rights, (ii) workers being treated as passive objects of regulation in codes of conduct, (iii) auditing being unable to detect and remediate violations of trade union rights, (iv) codes emphasizing parallel means of organizing, (v) suppliers having limited incentives for compliance, and (vi) codes being unable to open up space for union organizing when leveraged in grassroots struggles. Our arguments suggest that there is no quick fix for codes’ limited impact on trade union rights, and that codes, in their current form, have limited potential to improve trade union rights. We conclude by discussing ways in which codes of conduct, and private regulation of worker rights more generally, could be transformed to more effectively address trade union rights.
Ählström, J., & Egels-Zandén, N. (2008). The processes of defining corporate responsibility: A study of Swedish garment retailers’ responsibility. Business Strategy and the Environment, 17(4), 230–244.CrossRef
Anner, M. (2000). Local and transnational campaigns to end sweatshop practices. In M. Gordon & L. Turner (Eds.), Transnational cooperation among trade unions (pp. 238–255). Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
Anner, M. (2012). Corporate social responsibility and freedom of association rights: The precarious quest for legitimacy and control in global supply chains. Politics & Society, 40(4), 609–644.CrossRef
Armbruster-Sandoval, R. (2003). Globalization and transnational labor organizing: The Honduran maquiladora industry and the Kimi campaign. Social Science History, 27, 551–576.CrossRef
Armbruster-Sandoval, R. (2005). Globalization and cross-border labor solidarity in the Americas: The anti-sweatshop movement and the struggle for social justice. New York: Routledge.
Ascoly, N., & Zeldenrust, I. (2003). Challenges in china: Experiences from two CCC pilot projects on monitoring and verification of code compliance. Amsterdam: SOMO, Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations.
Auret, D., & Barrientos, S. (2004). Participatory social auditing: A practical guide to developing a gender-sensitive approach. IDS Working Paper 237, Brighton: Institute of Development Studies.
Barrientos, S. (2013). Corporate purchasing practices in global production networks: A socially contested terrain. Geoforum, 44, 44–51.CrossRef
Barrientos, S., & Smith, S. (2007). Do workers benefit from ethical trade? Assessing codes of labour practice in global production systems. Third World Quarterly, 28(4), 713–729.CrossRef
Bartley, T. (2007). Institutional emergence in an era of globalization: The rise of transnational private regulation of labor and environmental conditions. American Journal of Sociology, 113(2), 297–351.CrossRef
Bartley, T., & Zhang, L. (2012). Opening the “black box”: Transnational private certification of labor standards in China. RCCPB Working Paper #18, Indiana University.
Behnam, M., & MacLean, T. L. (2011). Where is the accountability in international accountability standards? A decoupling perspective. Business Ethics Quarterly, 21(1), 45–72.CrossRef
Beschorner, T., & Müller, M. (2007). Social standards: Toward an active ethical involvement of businesses in developing countries. Journal of Business Ethics, 73, 11–20.CrossRef
Blowfield, M. E., & Dolan, C. (2010). Fairtrade facts and fancies: What Kenyan fairtrade tea tells us about business’ role as development agent. Journal of Business Ethics, 93, 143–162.CrossRef
Braun, R., & Gearhart, J. (2004). Who should code your conduct? Trade union and NGO differences in the fight for workers’ rights. Development in Practice, 14(1–2), 183–196.CrossRef
Brenner, A., Eidlin, B., & Candaele, K. (2006). Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. Report for the Global Companies-Global Unions-Global Research-Global Campaigns Conference.
Brown, D. (2000). International trade and core labour standards: A survey of the recent literature. OECD Labour Market and Social Policy—Occasional Papers, No. 43.
Brown, G. (2013). Fatal flaws of foreign factory audits. Industrial Safety and Hygiene News, February. Retrieved June 30, 2013, from http://www.ishn.com/articles/print/95045-fatal-flaws-of-foreign-factory-audits.
Brown, G., & O’Rourke, D. (2007). Lean manufacturing comes to China: A case study of its impact on workplace health and safety. International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health, 3, 249–257.CrossRef
Caraway, T. L. (2011). Final report: Labor courts in Indonesia. Phnom Penh: American Center for International Labor Solidarity.
Chan, A., & Siu, K. (2010). Analyzing exploitation: The mechanisms underpinning low wages and excessive overtime in Chinese export factories. Critical Asian Studies, 42(2), 167–190.CrossRef
Christmann, P. (2004). Multinational companies and the natural environment: Determinants of global environmental policy. Academy of Management Journal, 47(5), 747–760.CrossRef
Compa, L. (2010). A strange case: Violations of workers’ freedom of association in the United States by European multinational corporations. New York, NY: Human Rights Watch. Retrieved June 30, 2013, from http://digitalcommons.ilr.cornell.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1334&context=articles.
Connor, T., & Dent, K. (2006). Offside! Labour rights and sportswear production in Asia. London: Oxfam International.
Egels-Zandén, N. (2007). Suppliers’ compliance with MNCs’ codes of conduct: Behind the scenes at Chinese toy suppliers. Journal of Business Ethics, 75(1), 45–62.CrossRef
Egels-Zandén, N. (2013). Revisiting supplier compliance with MNC codes of conduct: Recoupling policy and practice at Chinese toy suppliers. Journal of Business Ethics. doi:10.1007/s10551-013-1622-5.
Egels-Zandén, N., & Bartley, T. (2012). How local activists use codes of conduct: A global value chain approach. Presented at the 2012 SASE Conference, Boston, MA.
Egels-Zandén, N., & Hyllman, P. (2007). Evaluating strategies for negotiating workers’ rights in transnational corporations: The effects of codes of conduct and global agreements on workplace democracy. Journal of Business Ethics, 76(2), 207–223.CrossRef
Egels-Zandén, N., & Wahlqvist, E. (2007). Post-partnership strategies for defining corporate responsibility: The business social compliance initiative. Journal of Business Ethics, 70(2), 175–189.CrossRef
Everett, J. S., Neu, D., & Martinez, D. (2008). Multi-stakeholder labour monitoring organizations: Egoists, instrumentalists, or moralists? Journal of Business Ethics, 81, 117–142.CrossRef
FLA. (2004). Public Report. Retrieved February 2, 2013, from http://www.fairlabor.org/2004report/freedom/improve.html.
Fransen, L. (2012). Multi-stakeholder governance and voluntary programme interactions: Legitimation politics in the institutional design of corporate social responsibility. Socio-Economic Review, 10, 163–192.CrossRef
French, J. L., & Wokutch, R. E. (2005). Child workers, globalization and international business ethics: A case study in Brazil’s export-oriented shoe industry. Business Ethics Quarterly, 15(4), 615–640.CrossRef
Frenkel, S. (2001). Globalization, athletic footwear commodity chains and employment relations in China. Organization Studies, 22(4), 531–562.CrossRef
Greenwood, M. R. (2002). Ethics and HRM: A review and conceptual analysis. Journal of Business Ethics, 36, 261–278.CrossRef
Hallett, T. (2010). The myth incarnate: Recoupling processes, turmoil, and inhabited institutions in an urban elementary school. American Sociological Review, 75(1), 52–74.CrossRef
Hunter, P., & Urminsky, M. (2003). Social auditing, freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining. Geneva: Multinational Enterprises Programme, ILO. Retrieved February 2, 2013, from http://www.ilo.org/public/english/dialogue/actrav/publ/130/8.pdf.
ILO. (2004). Organizing for social justice: Global report under the follow-up to the ILO declaration on fundamental principles and rights at work. International Labour Conference, 92nd Session, 2004, Report 1 (b). Geneva: ILO.
ILO. (2006). Freedom of association: Digest of decisions and principles of the freedom of association committee of the governing body of the ILO Fifth (revised) edition. Geneva: ILO.
ILO. (2008). The labour principles of the United Nations Global Compact: A guide for business. Geneva: ILO.
ILO. (2011). Freedom of association and development. Geneva: ILO.
ITUC, IndustriALL, Clean Clothes Campaign, & UNI. (2012). The UN guiding principles on business and human rights and the human rights of workers to form or join trade unions and to bargain collectively. Retrieved June 30, 2013, from http://www.ituc-csi.org/IMG/pdf/12-11-22_ituc-industriall-ccc-uni_paper_on_due_diligence_and_foa.pdf.
Ip, P.-K. (2008). Corporate social responsibility and crony capitalism in Taiwan. Journal of Business Ethics, 79, 167–177.CrossRef
Jiang, B. (2009). Implementing supplier codes of conduct in global supply chains: Process explanations from theoretic and empirical perspectives. Journal of Business Ethics, 85, 77–92.CrossRef
Khan, F. R., Munir, K. A., & Willmott, H. (2007). A dark Side of institutional entrepreneurship: Soccer balls, child labour and postcolonial impoverishment. Organization Studies, 28(7), 1055–1077.CrossRef
Kucera, D., & Sarna, R. (2006). Trade union rights, democracy, and exports: A gravity model approach. Review of International Economics, 14(5), 859–882.CrossRef
Locke, R., Kochan, T., Romis, M., & Qin, F. (2007). Beyond corporate codes of conduct: Work organization and labour standards at Nike’s suppliers. International Labour Review, 146(1–2), 21–40.CrossRef
Long, B. S., & Driscoll, C. (2007). Codes of ethics and the pursuit of organizational legitimacy: Theoretical and empirical contributions. Journal of Business Ethics, 77, 173–189.CrossRef
Mamic, I. (2004). Implementing codes of conduct: How businesses manage social performance in global supply chains. Sheffield: Greenleaf Publishing.
Merk, J. (2008). Restructuring and conflict in the global athletic footwear industry: Nike, Yue Yuen and labour codes of conduct. In M. Taylor (Ed.), Global economy contested: Power and conflict across the international division of labour (pp. 79–97). New York, NY: Routledge.CrossRef
Merk, J. (2011). Production beyond the horizon of consumption: Spatial fixes and anti-sweatshop struggles in the global athletic footwear industry. Global Society, 25(1), 73–95.CrossRef
Meyer, J. W., & Rowan, B. (1977). Institutionalized organization: Formal structure as myth and ceremony. American Journal of Sociology, 83, 340–363.CrossRef
Miller, D. (2008). The ITGLWF’s policy on cross-border dialogue in the textiles, clothing and footwear sector: Emerging strategies in a sector ruled by codes of conduct and resistant companies. In K. Papadakis (Ed.), Cross-border social dialogue and agreements: An emerging global industrial relations framework? (pp. 161–189). Geneva: ILO.
Ngai, P. (2003). The moral economy of capital: Transnational corporate codes of conduct and labour rights in China. Presented at the Chinese University Conference: Chinese Trade Unions and the Labour Movement in the Market Economy, October 23–25.
Ngai, P. (2005). Global production, company codes of conduct, and labor conditions in China: A case study of two factories. The China Journal, 54, 101–113.CrossRef
O’Rourke, D. (2002). Monitoring the monitors: A critique of third-party labor monitoring. In R. Jenkins, R. Pearson, & G. Seyfang (Eds.), Corporate responsibility and labour rights: Codes of conduct in the global economy (pp. 196–208). London: Earthscan.
O’Rourke, D., & Brown, G. (2003). Experiments in transforming the global workplace: Incentives for and impediments to improving workplace conditions in China. International Journal of Occupational and Environmental and Health, 9(4), 378–385.CrossRef
Oka, C. (2011). What can bridge compliance gaps? Evidence from Cambodia. Presented at the 2nd Conference on Regulating for Decent Work: Regulating for a Fair Recovery, 6–8 July. Geneva: ILO.
Play Fair. (2008). Clearing the hurdles: Steps to improving wages and working conditions in the global sportswear industry. Retrieved June 30, 2013, from http://www.playfair2008.org/docs/Clearing_the_Hurdles.pdf.
Preuss, L. (2009). Ethical sourcing codes of large UK-based corporations: Prevalence, content, limitations. Journal of Business Ethics, 88, 735–747.CrossRef
Preuss, L. (2010). Codes of conduct in organisational context: From cascade to lattice-work of codes. Journal of Business Ethics, 94, 471–487.CrossRef
Prieto-Carron, M. (2006). Corporate social responsibility in Latin America: Chiquita, women banana workers and structural inequalities. Journal of Corporate Citizenship, 21, 85–94.CrossRef
Prieto-Carrón, M. (2008). Women workers, industrialization, global supply chains and corporate codes of conduct. Journal of Business Ethics, 83, 5–17.CrossRef
Reay, T., & Hinings, C. R. (2009). Managing the rivalry of competing institutional logics. Organization Studies, 30(6), 629–652.CrossRef
Rees, C., & Vermijs, D. (2008). Mapping grievance mechanisms in the business and human rights area. Corporate social responsibility initiative. John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, January, 2008. Retrieved June 30, 2013, from http://shiftproject.org/sites/default/files/Report_28_Mapping.pdf.
Riisgaard, L. (2009). Global value chains, labor organization and private social standards: Lessons from East African cut flower industries. World Development, 37(2), 326–340.
Riisgaard, L., & Hammer, N. (2011). Prospects for labour in global value chains: Labour standards in the cut flower and banana industries. British Journal of Industrial Relations, 49(1), 168–190.CrossRef
Rodríguez-Garavito, C. A. (2005). Global governance and labor rights: Codes of conduct and anti-sweatshop struggles in global apparel factories in Mexico and Guatemala. Politics and Society, 33(2), 203–233.CrossRef
Ross, R. J. S. (2006). A tale of two factories: Successful resistance to sweatshops and the limits of firefighting. Labor Studies Journal, 30(4), 65–85.
Runhaard, H., & Lafferty, H. (2009). Governing corporate social responsibility: An assessment of the contribution of the UN Global Compact to CSR strategies in the telecommunications industry. Journal of Business Ethics, 84, 479–495.CrossRef
Sauder, M., & Espeland, W. N. (2009). The discipline of rankings: Tight coupling and organizational change. American Sociological Review, 74, 63–82.CrossRef
Scott, W. R. (2008). Institutions and organizations: Ideas and interests. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Seidman, G. (2007). Beyond the boycott: Labor rights, human rights and transnational activism. New York, NY: Russell Sage Foundation/ASA Rose Series.
Spillane, J. P., Parise, L. M., & Sherer, J. Z. (2011). Organizational routines as coupling mechanisms: Policy, school administration, and the technical core. American Educational Research Journal, 48(3), 586–620.CrossRef
Sum, N.-L., & Ngai, P. (2005). Globalization and paradoxes of ethical transnational production: Code of conduct in a Chinese workplace. Competition and Change, 9(2), 181–200.CrossRef
Taylor, M. (2011). Race you to the bottom … and back again? The uneven development of labour codes of conduct. New Political Economy, 16(4), 445–462.CrossRef
Tjandraningsih, I., & Nugroho, H. (2008). The flexibility regime and organised labour in Indonesia. Labour and Management in Development, 9, 1–14.
Van Buren, H. J., & Greenwood, M. R. (2008). Enhancing employee voice: Are voluntary employer–employee partnerships enough? Journal of Business Ethics, 81, 209–221.CrossRef
van der Vegt, S. (2005). Social auditing in Bulgaria, Romania and Turkey: Results from survey and case study research. Ankara: ILO.
van Tulder, R., & Kolk, A. (2001). Multinationality and corporate ethics: Codes of conduct in the sporting goods industry. Journal of International Business Studies, 32(2), 267–283.CrossRef
Waddock, S. (2004). Creating corporate accountability: Foundational principles to make corporate citizenship real. Journal of Business Ethics, 50, 313–327.CrossRef
Wang, H. (2005). Asian transnational corporations and labor rights: Vietnamese trade unions in Taiwan-invested companies. Journal of Business Ethics, 56, 43–53.CrossRef
Wells, D. (2007). Too weak for the job: Corporate codes of conduct, non-governmental organizations and the regulation of international labour standards. Global Social Policy, 7(1), 51–74.CrossRef
Wereldsolidariteit. (2011). Short-term employment in the Asian garment industry. Thematic Report from Asia, No. 1. Brussels.
Wingborg, M. (2006). Indiska: En granskning av företagets strategier för att förbättra villkoren i leverantörsfabrikerna. Stockholm: Clean Clothes Campaign Sweden.
Yu, X. (2008). Impacts of corporate codes of conduct on labor standards: A case study of Reebok’s athletic footwear supplier factory in China. Journal of Business Ethics, 81, 513–529.CrossRef
Yu, X. (2009). From passive beneficiary to active stakeholder: Workers’ participation in CSR movement against labor abuses. Journal of Business Ethics, 87, 233–249.CrossRef
Zadek, S. (2004). The path to corporate social responsibility. Harvard Business Review, 82(12), 125–132.
Zeldenrust, I. (2008). Overcoming challenges: Access, effectiveness and enforcement. Retrieved June 30, 2013, from http://srsg-consultation.pbworks.com/w/page/6116278/Overcoming%20Challenges%3A%20Access,%20Effectiveness%20and%20Enforcement.
- Private Regulation and Trade Union Rights: Why Codes of Conduct Have Limited Impact on Trade Union Rights
Journal of Business Ethics
Volume 123, Issue 3 , pp 461-473
- Cover Date
- Print ISSN
- Online ISSN
- Springer Netherlands
- Additional Links
- Codes of conduct
- Freedom of association
- Private regulation
- Supplier relationships
- Trade union rights
- Worker rights
- Industry Sectors
- Author Affiliations
- 1. Department of Business Administration, School of Business Economics and Law, University of Gothenburg, Box 600, 405 30, Gothenburg, Sweden
- 2. International Secretariat Clean Clothes Campaign, PO Box 11584, 1001 GN, Amsterdam, The Netherlands