Global judgements and ideas.

Globalizing decent work: labour regulation beyond the boundaries of the state

Izmir groupdecent work visualisation

Globalizing decent work: labour regulation beyond the boundaries of the state

Look out for the Special Issue in the Global Labour Journal emerging from this workshop and my earlier workshop The Future and Praxis of Decent Work!!

Conor Cradden and I convened this workshop and wrote the following to attract a good crowd. The intensive research workshop, the second of the European Workshops in International Studies (EWIS), held this year at Gediz University in Izmir, covered the following.

In 1998 the International Labour Organization defined four basic principles and rights at work, declaring that two of its conventions in each of the four thematic areas of forced labour, child labour, discrimination and freedom of association would be deemed ‘fundamental’. This set of eight fundamental conventions, usually known as the core labour standards, has since become an internationally recognized point of normative reference for labour clauses within corporate codes of conduct and social responsibility policies, multistakeholder sustainability standards, and bilateral and regional trade agreements. What is not yet clear is what the effects and implications of the diffusion of ILO labour standards through these kinds of non-state regulatory channels will be. A second development intended to increase the visibility and influence of the ILO on the global stage occurred in 1999. ILO Director General Juan Somavia announced that the ‘Decent Work Agenda’ would henceforth drive ILO activities. Despite almost 15 years of discussion, however, the concept of decent work is still ambiguous. What exactly is decency? How has it been translated into policy and practice? Does it reflect the ILO’s original ambitions around people’s ‘right to pursue both their material well-being and their spiritual development in conditions of freedom and dignity, of economic security and equal opportunity’ (Declaration of Philadelphia, 1944)? How does it relate to the core conventions and the rest of the international labour standards corpus, and what role has it played in the development of private labour regulation? In this workshop we discussed the closely related issues of decent work and the core conventions, and in particular how they relate to emerging forms of transnational private regulation. We welcomed papers that addressed conceptual issues, measurement, links with social movements and other campaigns, as well as case studies focusing on debates on decency at work. We combined insights of critical international political economy with those of comparative industrial relations.

Workshop theme 1: Application of ILO conventions at enterprise level

As a consequence of inclusion within private regulation schemes, it appears that the core ILO conventions are being applied directly at the enterprise level, bypassing the state and raising the possibility of a globalized form of labour governance. However, the reach of private regulation and the degree to which it has actually changed the practices of affected businesses and workers’ organizations has been difficult to establish.

Workshop theme 2: Labour standards in trade regulation

The subject of the inclusion of labour clauses in trade regulation has re-emerged with negotiations on a bilateral trade agreement between the USA and the EU. The ILO’s core conventions are likely to be the principal point of reference for any labour chapter. The projected ‘Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership’ (TTIP) would be the most significant agreement to include labour standards and represents the opening of an important gap between the established WTO approach to labour clauses in trade agreements and that of the world’s two largest economies.

Workshop theme 3: Tripartite voices, new voices?

A critical focus is on the respective roles of each of the parties that compose the ILO – government, labour and employers – in the interpretation of standards and the adjudication of disputes outside national legal contexts. The potential transformation of the ILO into an international labour court is contested, most vociferously by employers’ representatives who have questioned the authority of the independent jurists at the heart of the ILO’s supervisory system. This is in stark contrast to the position of the AFL-CIO, one of whose lobbying objectives for the TTIP is to ensure that the ILO’s supervisory procedure is designated as the principal source of jurisprudence. In that light, the role of social movements, NGOs and trade unions is important for identifying new voices around how legislation is made.


Me; Conor Cradden, Lausanne; Jeroen Merk, LSE and Clean Clothes Campaign; Jamie Morgan, Beckett University; Rafael Peels, ILO; Ilona Steiler, Helsinki; Kateryna Yarmolyuk, Kassel; Lore Van den Putte, Gent


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This entry was posted on May 26, 2014 by .
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