Global Labor Standards: New Research in Transnational and State Regulatory Politics

Khalid Nadvi
Session Organizers:
Matthew Amengual and Timea Pal
Thursday, 2 July 2015: 10:15 AM-11:45 AM
TW1.1.03 (Tower One)
Research on improving labor standards has taken a fundamental shift in the past few years.  Increasingly, scholars recognize that interactions between transnational regulatory efforts and domestic political processes have important implications on labor standards in countries that are integrated into global production regimes. The conditions and mechanisms that enable improved implementation are however still poorly understood. This session features four new papers that examine intersection between local and global regulatory efforts.  First, a paper by Pal formulates a novel framework for illuminating how the competences and the interests of actors involved in regulatory governance lead to more effective implementation.  Drawing on fieldwork from the electronics industry of Hungary, this paper then illustrates that improved regulation of short-term work was contingent on combining the legitimizing authority of state regulation with the enforcement efforts of actors involved in private regulation. The extent and manner of change was then influenced by the institutional architecture of private regulation with a distinction between monitoring and stakeholder oriented approaches. Similar improvements were hindered in areas where the authority of the state was absent, as in the case of eliminating disciplinary measures, or the efforts of non-state actors were weak, as in the case of working time.  Second, a paper by Amengual and Chirot extends Pal’s analysis, studying the case of Better Work in Indonesia to identify the conditions under which transnational regulation reinforces state institutions.  Using data from original fieldwork the authors account for why Better Work reinforced state institutions in some places but not others by examining the ways in which power and authority are combined.  Better Work has power through its connection to multinational companies, but cannot authoritatively interpret domestic laws and regulations.  By contrast, the Indonesian state has such authority, but little power to enforce these rules at the local level.  When layering the two institutions combined, domestic institutions were reinforced and otherwise failing institutions became functional.  Third, a paper by Anner studies promotion of worker-management committees by a variety of transnational regulatory regimes.  This research paper draws on fieldwork in Vietnam, as well as broader analysis of global data, to unpack the dynamics of new efforts by transnational actors to strengthen the most micro-level labor market institutions.  Finally, Berliner takes a global perspective, drawing on a new dataset of freedom of association, collective bargaining, and enforcement of labor regulation in 96 countries.  Investigating global factors, Berliner finds that levels of economic integration and, crucially, the nationality of key trading partners, influence levels of freedom of association. Domestically, the paper highlights the importance of leftist political parties that represent the interest of labor.  In sum, the papers on this panel combine highly contextualized case studies, broad analyses of new trends in transnational regulation, and cross-national statistical studies.  Collectively, they open up new terrain in studying the political economy of labor standards, providing novel theoretical perspectives to advance our understanding of ways to improve working conditions around the world.