Wednesday 30 November 2016

The power of the sewing machine: A masterclass in building alliances for workers’ rights and sustainability in global production networks

By Aarti Krishnan and Corinna Braun-Munzinger

The ESRC project on ‘Rising Powers, Labour Standards and the Governance of Global Production Networks’ and Global Production Networks, Trade and Labour research group at the Global Development Institute, University of Manchester, on 14 October 2016 hosted a talk by Karamat Ali, executive director of the Pakistan Institute of Labour Education & Research (PILER).

“In life there are a few things worth doing, saving lives is one of them”

Karamat Ali‘s moving words were imprinted in the minds of everyone seated in the room. Based on 40 years of experience as a labour and development activist in Pakistan, Karamat Ali gave his audience in Manchester a masterclass in building alliances for workers’ rights and sustainability in global production networks. The talk focused on Pakistan Institute of Labour Education & Research (PILER) campaign work for compensation for 254 workers families who died and 55 who were injured in the aftermath of one of Pakistan’s most devastating factory fires, at Ali Enterprises in Karachi in September 2012.

Ali enterprises supplied jeans to German clothing retailer KIK. At the outset, it seemed hard to imagine that it would be realistic to achieve compensation for workers and their families. Would it be possible to hold those responsible locally to account? And was there any way of reaching KIK’s headquarters far away in Germany? Karamat Ali took us all through this emotive and arduous journey of how after four years of struggle, workers’ voices resonated across the country and beyond.

At the start, PILER began to mobilize locally. This was not easy, because unionisation in the apparel industry was low and thus strikes were not an option to make workers’ demands heard. To get around this problem, PILER decided to look for an alternative way to create public awareness about the loss of lives and injuries of workers sustained in the fire. PILER along with family members of the victims teamed up with a famous Pakistani singer (Jawad Ahmad) to create an evocative you tube video that asked workers to unite.

The video was aired by local TV stations and garnered widespread local attention in support for workers’ demands. Parallel to the public campaign, PILER relentlessly pushed for judicial action in Pakistan by calling for a detailed inquiry in court into the causes of the deaths of the workers and to press criminal charges on those responsible for the incident.

PILER also built international alliances to initiate a dialogue with KIK and stakeholders in Germany (where the jeans produced by Ali Enterprises were sold). To start reaching out beyond Pakistan, PILER drew on earlier contacts from the European Clean Clothes Campaign. Building on this cooperation, a range of additional NGOs and trade unions in Germany became active on the issue. Initial success was achieved in December 2012, when KIK signed an agreement with PILER to pay an initial US$1 million into a relief fund for victims and agreed to providing long-term compensation. However, reaching agreement on how this compensation should look like took further scaling up of the initiative, not only involving global unions like IndustriALL, but also the German government (which had just launched a new initiative on sustainable textiles) and the ILO. Thus successful partnerships with the German government, global partners, and effective local mobilisation (including national legal procedures), resulted in the disbursement of not only US$ 1 million but a new negotiated amount of US $5 million by KIK in 2016. Against all odds, PILER provided a platform for workers’ voices, in Pakistan, creating ripple effects from Berlin, to the ILO, to the headquarters of KIK, which 4 years ago seemed unreachable.

Karamat Ali’s talk speaks of hope, of victory in the face of adversity and to never give up fighting for what is right. Heroes really do exist and we were lucky enough to meet one. He showed us that there is a need to build ‘real alliances’ , – alliances in which those who buy the clothes take responsibility for how they are produced and for those who sit at the sewing machines. This stands testament that improving working conditions of workers leads to sustainable, resilient and conflict-free production networks... something every major retailer needs to hear!

Thursday 24 November 2016

How does India engage with sustainability standards?

By Natalie Langford, PhD researcher at the Global Development Institute, University of Manchester 

In November, the Rising Powers and Global Labour Standards team will be travelling to India in order to jointly host a conference alongside Centre for Responsible Business (CRB), a prominent NGO based in New Delhi. ‘India and Sustainability Standards: International Dialogues & Conference’ (ISS 2016) takes place from the 16-19th November. It presents an exciting opportunity for us to disseminate our research and engage to a broad audience of stakeholders involved in the sustainability field in Asia.

The broader theme of the ISS conference is the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and how the corporate sector can contribute towards achieving these ambitious goals. There is a broad consensus that governments alone will not be able to meet these goals. However, our research demonstrates there are key roles that government departments and agencies need to play to ensure that businesses can operate efficiently while contributing towards sustainable development.

Our project, led by Professor Khalid Nadvi at the Global Development Institute has been concerned with how global labour standards affect production processes, and the ways in which various actors have engaged with the shaping of such standards. Our research has important implications for how effective labour standards can foster responsible business practices.

Whilst privately governed ethical standards (such as Rainforest Alliance or Forestry Stewardship Council) have become a key feature of global value chains in which goods and services are sold in Northern markets, there is a growing interest in the ways in which standards may emerge in global value chains across the Global South. Given the huge growth in production and consumption in , Southern markets, it is especially important to understand the extent to which actors in the Global South are also shaping labour standards for local markets.

India is one of the three Rising Powers (alongside Brazil and China) in which the project has conducted extensive qualitative and quantitative research, in order to examine this phenomenon. Given that states, firms and civil society organisations are all recognised actors engaged in standard setting, the core research questions of the project focused upon the ways in which these different sets of actors had been exposed to global labour standards, their perspectives and experiences, and the ways in which they seek to shape (or not) labour standards for markets in the Global South.

As a PhD student on this project, I have been lucky enough to gain a great deal of insight into the ways in which Brazil, China and India have engaged with the standards agenda through my interactions with the senior academics attached to the project. Professor Nadvi has assembled a truly global team of academic experts; from local colleagues at Alliance Manchester Business School through to Professors based in India, China and Brazil who have all contributed their knowledge and experience to the project.

My own research has focused on India in particular, and the conference is an opportunity for me to present my findings on Trustea, a new standard for the Indian tea industry which is specifically focused on the domestic market. I explore the role of both global and national actors within the development of the standard, and how the interactions between state, civil society and lead firms within Trustea has contributed to new forms of governance of social conditions within the Indian tea industry.

We’ll also be presenting our research related to Indian lead firms, civil society organisations and the state in relation to global sustainability standards. Professor Rudolf Sinkovics from Alliance Manchester Business School as well as Professor Peter Knorringa from the Institute for Social Studies (ISS), based in The Hague, Netherlands will all be discussing their latest findings as contributors to the Rising Powers project. The conference has been organised by Dr Bimal Arora, Chairperson for Centre for Responsible Business.

This blog post was originally published on 14 October 2016 on the development@manchester blog.

Tuesday 22 November 2016

Call for papers: Workshop on ‘Rising Powers and Labour Standards in Global Production Networks’, 19-20 June 2017, Manchester

The ‘Rising Powers’, especially China, India and Brazil, have now become key players in the global economy. Yet, we still know too little about how these economies are engaging with and potentially shaping, the rules that govern international trade and global production, in particular global labour and social standards. For producers around the world, meeting international standards on social and environmental sustainability is increasingly critical. We are now more aware about the food we eat and how it came to our plates, or whether what we wear implied sweatshop labour. Nonetheless, gains from social compliance – especially for workers and poor producers – remain unclear. Expanding trade between the Rising Power economies, their growing domestic consumer markets and the emergence of leading firms from China, India and Brazil raise questions on how global standards will be shaped in the future, who the key drivers will be, and what implications arise for workers in both these emerging economies and throughout the global economy.

This workshop will present findings from work undertaken in Brazil, China, India and the EU, as part of an ESRC funded project on labour standards and the governance of global production networks. It also aims to bring together a wider community of academics and practitioners working on labour and sustainability standards in the global economy, but with a particular interest on the ‘Rising Powers’ and how they might sustain, challenge, or change the global discourse on labour and sustainability standards. Hence, we particularly invite proposals for papers around the following themes:
  • The emergence of rising power MNCs, their engagement with CSR and social standards, and the implications for global labour and social standards in global value chains
  • The role of innovation, CSR, and human rights in global value chains
  • The engagement of civil society actors in the rising powers with local and/or global CSR initiatives and social standards
  • Public labour regulation in Brazil, China and India and the engagement of these countries in the international institutions where trade rules on labour and social standards are defined
  • The implications of the rise of Brazil, China and India for labour and social standards in OECD and developing economies

  • Full paper submission: 12 May 2017 (max. 8,000 words excl. abstract, notes, references etc.) Papers will be circulated to discussants prior to the workshop.
Accommodation costs in Manchester will be covered for authors of accepted papers.

Thursday 10 November 2016

Giving workers employment rights increases productivity and profitability

By Boni Sones, University of Cambridge
Image by Stuart Miles.

We live in a globalised world and buy products produced by workers’ from all over the World. Increasingly consumers are demanding that those who produce our goods are employed on decent terms and conditions whether they work in Europe, Africa, India, Russia, China or South America. Sweatshop labour used in one continent is often named and shamed in another and these reputational effects can affect demand for goods. But as consumers ask for more fairtrade goods from the developing world, workers in the so called global North are finding that their employment is more insecure, as greater numbers are employed on zero hour contracts, while all workers are finding it harder to access employment tribunals to enforce their employment rights.

The Centre for Business Research at the University of Cambridge has turned conventional wisdom on its head, and through a series of quantitative research projects over a number of recent years, has constructed a new database that reveals how improvements in labour rights can lead to increased productivity and employment as well as greater equality in society. These datasets are now online for others to access and use.

International organisations are taking note of these findings and national governments would do well to consider them. Globalisation, rather than inducing a so called ‘race to the bottom’ as many commentators predicted, is making governments more aware of the need for improved protections for workers, and of the importance of enforcement. Better informed and discerning consumers who are switched on to the web and social media where they can check the sourcing of the products they buy, along with campaigning civil society groups and NGOs, are helping to enforce these values.

The statistical studies carried out by the CBR complement qualitative research carried out by the Global Development Institute at The University of Manchester.

In a recent CBR workshop held in Cambridge in September 2016 researchers from both Universities discussed the findings from ESRC-funded research on labour law reforms, labour standards and corporate social responsibility (CSR) practices in Rising Powers, including China, India, South Africa and Brazil.

Many commentators have doubted that worker-protective labour laws can be made effective in developing countries with high levels of informal work and weak states. This has led to interest in alternative modes of regulation including codes of practice and consumer boycotts focused on global supply chains. But this focus neglects important changes on the ground in low- and middle-income countries in Africa and Asia which over the past decade have been implementing systematic reforms to their labour laws and codes, sometimes after much publicised strikes.

Admittedly the aims of these reforms are diverse: they include promoting industrial peace, encouraging employers to invest in training, and cushioning the effects of labour migration. Often these interventions have had the effect of encouraging formalisation of work and building state capacity. They have also operated in conjunction with, rather than in opposition to, voluntary measures and soft-law initiatives aimed at improving labour governance in value chains.

Encouragingly, while there are still many difficulties associated with the operation of labour standards in emerging markets, empirical work is revealing a more complex and differentiated picture than that frequently presented. There is good reason to be optimistic about these trends.

The two day workshop presented findings of two main types:
  • Results from quantitative research analysing a unique dataset of labour laws around the world, constructed at the CBR in Cambridge. 
  • Research from fieldwork conducted in case study countries, including China, Brazil, India, and South Africa, by teams based respectively at the Universities of Cambridge (Simon Deakin and colleagues) and Manchester (Khalid Nadvi and colleagues). 
The research undertaken by the Cambridge team deploys a unique dataset, the CBR Labour Regulation Index, which codes for labour laws in 117 countries over the period 1970 to 2013 (43 years). It is the first time that the laws of so many countries have been coded in this way and the dataset will be of very considerable interest to research users and policy makers.

The fieldwork research also breaks new ground in offering in-depth analyses of the implementation of labour law reforms in such contexts as Guangdong province in China, and on the interaction of labour laws with private labour standards operating in global supply chains.

The qualitative case studies undertaken by the Manchester team explore how lead firms in the rising powers engage with labour standards and CSR practices in their now increasingly global supply chains, and investigate the influence of civil society actors as well as the state in the development of private regulatory initiatives and in framing the discourse on labour standards.

For more details:

Publications from the two projects are also available here: