Transnational private authority and the participation of workers' organizations in the regulatory space surrounding the employment relationship


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Inproceedings: an article in a conference proceedings.
Transnational private authority and the participation of workers' organizations in the regulatory space surrounding the employment relationship
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Swiss Political Science Association
Cradden Conor, Graz Jean-Christophe
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Most corporate codes of conduct and multi-stakeholder sustainability standards guarantee workers' rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining, but many authors are sceptical about the concrete impact of codes and standards of this kind. In this paper we use Hancher and Moran's (1998) concept of 'regulatory space' to assess the potential of private transnational regulation to support the growth of trade union membership and collective bargaining relationships, drawing on some preliminary case study results from a project on the impact of the International Finance Corporation's (IFC) social conditionality on worker organization and social dialogue.
One of the major effects of neoliberal economic and industrial policy has been the routine exclusion of workers' organizations from regulatory processes on the grounds that they introduce inappropriate 'political' motives into what ought to be technical decision-making processes. This, rather than any direct attack on their capacity to take action, is what seems best to explain the global decline in union influence (Cradden 2004; Howell 2007; Howe 2012). The evidence we present in the paper suggests that private labour regulation may under certain conditions contribute to a reversal of this tendency, re-establishing the legitimacy of workers' organizations within regulatory processes and by extension the legitimacy of their use of economic and social power. We argue that guarantees of freedom of association and bargaining rights within private regulation schemes are effective to the extent that they can be used by workers' organizations in support of a claim for access to the regulatory space within which the terms and conditions of the employment relationship are determined.
Our case study evidence shows that certain trade unions in East Africa have indeed been able to use IFC and other private regulation schemes as levers to win recognition from employers and to establish collective bargaining relationships. Although they did not attempt to use formal procedures to make a claim for the enforcement of freedom of association rights on behalf of their members, the unions did use enterprises' adherence to private regulation schemes as a normative point of reference in argument and political exchange about worker representation. For these unions, the regulation was a useful addition to the range of arguments that they could deploy as means to justify their demand for recognition by employers.
By contrast, the private regulation that helps workers' organizations to win access to regulatory processes does little to ensure that they are able to participate meaningfully, whether in terms of technical capacity or of their ability to mobilize social power as a counterweight to the economic power of employers. To the extent that our East African unions were able to make an impact on terms and conditions of employment via their participation in regulatory space it was solely on the basis of their own capacities and resources and the application of national labour law.
transnational private regulation, labour standards, world bank, industrial relations, international political economy
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27/03/2014 15:48
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