In Defense of Transnational Domestic Labor Regulation

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

Transnational domestic labor regulation (TDLR) is unilateral regulation introduced by a government to influence labor practices in foreign jurisdictions. TDLR has the potential to empower foreign workers and influence the balance of power in foreign industrial relations systems in ways that might lead to improved labor conditions. Particularly interesting is the potential for TDLR to harness or steer private labor regulation--the many non-state sources of labor practice governance already active in shaping labor conditions within global supply chains. However, whether governments should try to influence foreign labor practices at all is a controversial question. This Article explores the arguments both for and against a unilateral legislative strategy that aims to improve working conditions in foreign countries. While the Article ultimately supports this strategy, it concludes that the design of the model must have as its principal objective the empowerment of the foreign workers themselves. TDLR that is poorly designed or loses sight of this objective can produce harmful results that leave the workers even worse off.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

  I. FOREIGN LABOR PRACTICES AND THE DOMESTIC
     POLITICAL AGENDA WITHIN DEVELOPED STATES
 II. ARGUMENTS AGAINST A TRANSNATIONAL DOMESTIC
     LABOR REGULATION (TDLR) PROJECT AND
     PRIVATE LABOR REGULATION (PLR)
     A. TDLR Undermines Foreign Government
        National Sovereignty and Comparative
        Advantage
     B. PLR May Seek to Produce Norms that
        Conflict with Social Norms in the
        Foreign States
     C. Reliance by PLR Campaigns and Initiatives
        on Market Forces is Inappropriate and
        Ineffective
     D. PLR Legitimizes the Substitution of Private
        or "Self" Regulation for State Regulation
     E. PLR Shifts Responsibility for Defining
        Appropriate Standards from States to
        Unaccountable Private Actors
     F. The Costs of TDLR Would Outweigh Any
        Potential Benefits
III. ARGUMENTS IN SUPPORT OF TRANSNATIONAL DOMESTIC
LABOR REGULATION
     A. The Sovereign State and Labor Practice
        Governance
     B. PLR and TDLR Might Bolster Government
        Sovereignty by Improving Compliance
        with National Labor Laws
     C. The Modest Impact of PLR Initiatives and
        Campaigns on Labor Practices and
        Foreign Inward Investment
     D. PLR Encourages Greater Deliberation and
        Discourse About Abusive Supply Chain
        Labor Practices
     E. PLR May Influence Internal Management
        Systems of Multinational Corporations
        in Useful Ways
     F. PLR May Encourage Industry Collaboration
        Towards Finding Sustainable Solutions
        to Reputation-Damaging Labor
        Practice Abuses
 IV. THE NEED TO ENCOURAGE PARTICIPATION OF
     LOCAL ACTORS
  V. CONCLUSION

Governments of advanced economic nations have been wrestling with an intriguing question: to what extent should they seek to use their influence to improve labor practices in economically developing countries? Should the U.S. government expend financial and political resources to improve working conditions in Chinese or Indian factories? These are controversial questions.

On one side of the debate is the argument that determining acceptable employment practices within a particular jurisdiction is best left to its governing political leaders and the local industrial relations actors, including employers, employees, and, where they exist, unions. On the other side is the argument that while multinational corporations (MNCs) have reaped huge financial rewards from globalization and the proliferation of the global sourcing model over the past quarter century, they have often done so by exploiting poor working conditions in countries where independent unions are nonexistent or outlawed altogether and where national governments are either unable or unwilling to enforce decent labor standards to protect workers. …