A prominent industrial relations professor has called for an assessment of the different forms of global labour governance in the light of claims from China Labour Watch that Apple’s new cheaper iPhone is being produced in poor working conditions at Jabil Circuit’s factory in Wuxi, China.
It follows the Rana Plaza tragedy in Bangladesh where 1 132 people were killed and Professor Paul Marginson, of Warwick Business School, feels globalisation’s wider impact on the workforce needs to be explored along with the responses of trade unions, governments, NGOs, international organisations and civil society not only on poor working conditions, but child labour, trafficking and a proper living wage.

Professor Marginson believes national labour regulations are struggling to cope with the cross-border movement of labour and services by multinational companies.

“The roles of NGOs, in both developing and developed economies, in the new forms of global labour governance, and their interaction with more traditional public, business and trade union actors, require systematic investigation,” says the professor of industrial relations.

“This would allow the democratic nature of global labour governance, according to criteria of representation, legitimacy, transparency and accountability, to be assessed and the potential for negotiations and understanding between organisations from developed and developing countries to be identified.”

Professor Marginson, who has worked with the European Commission and the European Foundation for Improvement of Living and Working Conditions, says there are overlaps between local labour laws or norms and international labour standards.

He adds: “Some forms of governance could be displaced by others. With a mix of private initiatives and government initiatives, the danger is that they will conflict with each other or make each other less effective. This is why we need to research, compare and contrast each form of labour governance.

“There are important gaps in knowledge which we need to explore. We need to better understand the role of NGOs and to compare different forms of governance to see what works and what does not, and to identify the reasons why.

“There are limitations to both established and emerging forms of labour governance at a global level. The agreements, such as the ones drawn up to protect Bangladeshi workers, are examples of a growing range of initiatives to improve global labour standards.

“These initiatives usually involve various combinations of private and public bodies, including business associations, multinational corporations, NGOs, trade unions and international governmental agencies including the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the UN.

“These include fair trade certification schemes, codes of conduct adopted by multinationals, international agreements negotiated with trade unions and the UN’s Global Compact.”