Local Worker Struggles in the Global South: Reconsidering Northern Impacts on International Labour Standards [A GAME CHANGER]

Guys I fully recommend this for anyone in the North involved in campaigning for garment workers’ rights, to understand where our campaigns often go wrong and what we need to do to rectify it. Click here. – or read the notes made in this post!

Notes I done made:

  • The role of corporate social responsibility (CSR) and the anti-sweatshop movement (both Northern initiatives) have been exaggerated and misinterpreted- this exaggeration then leads to a misunderstanding of the prominent role workers and their local allies play in changing labour standards
  • little evidence that CSR has had an impact, and there are limits to what it can actually achieve
    • e.g. lack of resources to monitor factories, brands putting so much pressure on manufacturers in the South to reduce costs and meet unpredictable demands, manufacturers cannot afford to comply to CSR, little emphasis on workers rights in CSR
  • Northern anti-sweatshop movements may play a significant role in certain struggles, workers have been at the centre of successful achievements in improving and maintaining labour standards
    • ‘globalisation from below’- transnational networks (TANs)- different organisations and individuals (e.g. student, labour, faith-based groups) working internationally on an issue, bound by shared values and exchange of information and services)
    • Northern actors in TANs normally the focus – this is referred to ‘BOOMERANG PATTERNS’ of influence. This is when actors in state A engage with international allies (usually Northern), creating TANs to pressure foreign state B (usually Northern) to pressure state A. This allows Nrthern actors to enhance the power of those in the South, providing leverage, info, access, money etc. This implies workers in state A are secondary in North-South interactions.
    • The use of the boomerang effect can be seen in the anti-sweatshop movement, where actors in the North put pressure on brands and in turn their Southern manufacturers to improve working conditions – great emphasis placed on the role of Northern actors in this interaction via e.g. access to mass media and ‘conscience consumers’
    • anti-sweatshop movement argued to be powerful bc of the risks Northern campaigners pose to brands who want to maintain their good image with their consumers
    • North-centric view also bc most academics, journalists and activists who write most of the content on anti-sweatshop campaigns are writing in the North- so the campaigns are seen primarily as Northern, minimising the role of workers and activists in the South.
  • We need to bring workers to the forefront of our understanding of efforts to improve working conditions
  • Workers’ power in the workplace and with local allies always helps to shape working conditions- provides  examples of cases where Northern allies were not the primary actorsin the struggle, but were auxiliary to what were predominantly local struggles by workers and allies. Heres one:
    • The Mexmode/Kikdong maquiladora: Workers engaged in a 9 month struggle to establish an independent union and negotiated an agreement addressing their major grievances. Success was attributed to victory of TAN pressure on Nike, one of the brands supplying from the factory, to force the implementation of labour standards. However, TAN pressure only began when striking workers were being persecuted by the police, and even later that Nike forced local managers and authorities to allow workers to form their own union. Way before they went on strike workers had developed solidarity links with a local women workers’ support centre and with students and staff at a local university. Early in the strike workers gained considerable local solidarity from community nearby. This local network was the basis of the workers’ struggle. It was only after this support base formed that the workers initiated links with Northern groups. Northern campaigning complemented workers’ struggles- focused on targeting Nike to address the situation in compliance with their code of conduct- workers had little knowledge of Nikes code of conduct but knew this could help them. The workers framed the conflict as one between workers and the corrupt government union, therefore giving Nike and other important actors the resolution of establishing an independent union. By linking their struggle for an independent union to Northern campaigns, workers had reinforced their own strategy. In this case, workers had proven themselves to be more effective than those monitoring the factories and NGOs.
  • Pressure from Northern activists is occasional and dependent on media and consumer attention, while pressure from power of workers and local allies is  continuous and therefore central to struggles.
  • the contribution of Northern actors needs to be considered as reinforcement of actions that workers themselves initiate and sustain.
  • Evidence here suggests that globalisation from below will need to be built on foundations that are centred in local Southern workers’ struggles.

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