Labour in the Global Economy: Four Approaches to Transnational Labour Regulation
KATHERINE VAN WEZEL STONE
Twenty-five years ago, Raymond Vernon foresaw that increased international economic activity would create profound political problems. He warned that the imminent growth of multinational enterprises was a 'threat to national politics . . . [because] [m]ultinational enterprises are not easily subjected to national policy'. Further, Vernon said, the threat to national politics would come not only from multinational enterprises, but also from the shrinking of trade barriers, and improvements in transportation and communications technologies. 'These are likely to raise issues of sovereignty that may, in the end, dwarf the multinational enterprise problem' ( Vernon 1970: 396-400). Since then, the globalization of the world economy has proceeded at a fast pace. World trade has displaced domestic trade as the engine of economic growth. Direct foreign investment by multinational corporations has increased dramatically in the past decade. The nations of the world are quickly dividing themselves into trading blocs. Telecommunication and computer technologies have made it easier for firms to engage in production, distribution, and marketing all over the world. Trade barriers are falling, foreign exchange restrictions are disappearing, and national borders are becoming permeable.
While the economic dimension of the global economy can be measured, monitored, and described in quantitative terms, there is also a more subtle, and yet equally powerful, qualitative change underway. The global economy has diminished the regulatory capability of the nation-state and thus calls into question conventional views of sovereignty. This results from two distinct factors. First, within trading blocs, much domestic regulation is superseded by multilateral treaties and tribunals that have de facto, if not de jure trumping power. Second, there is a practical limitation on the ability of one nation to regulate its domestic affairs in a world where labour and capital move freely across national borders. In such a world, legislation that is onerous to the business community, such as most social welfare and worker