Curriculum Guide · Courses
Corporate Responsibility for Workers in the Global Supply Chain Seminar
Professor Nina Pillard
J.D. Seminar 1116 (cross-listed) | 2 credit hours
This seminar addresses a compelling issue of justice in the modern world: the protection of workers in a globalized economy. Globalization has brought many benefits, but has simultaneously created new dynamics of workplace regulation. Manufacturing firms in more developed countries outsource jobs to countries with low wages and workplace standards, and less developed countries are loath to enforce workplace protections for fear of losing investment and jobs. The bargaining power of workers at home and abroad suffers and economic inequality expands. Many observers agree that multinational brands have the leverage and the profit margin to improve workplace conditions, but decent work takes a back seat to bringing novel and inexpensive products quickly to market. One innovative but controversial response is the development of voluntary, “soft-law” corporate or multi-stakeholder codes of conduct setting forth labor standards for multinational corporate supply chains. Whereas government regulation is driven by public political processes, these private codes respond to consumer, investor and procurement-agency pressures. Student anti-sweatshop activism since the 1990s has provided important impetus for the adoption and monitoring of voluntary labor codes worldwide, especially in production of apparel. Recent exposés have put the electronics industry, with Apple as the most visible exemplar, under closer scrutiny. Now every Fortune 500 firm in the United States and thousands of other transnational businesses have codes of conduct, as well as sophisticated advertising campaigns designed to assuage concerns about harms caused in the manufacture of goods in poorly regulated global supply chains. Even as conventional legal tools setting labor standards are losing traction and the Alien Tort Statute for enforcing human rights is under fire in the Supreme Court, private labor codes proliferate, and a swiftly growing corps of many thousands of NGO and corporate professionals drafts, propagates and monitors those codes. This seminar will study those voluntary, private codes of conduct setting labor standards in transnational supply chains and seek to illuminate both their strengths and vulnerabilities as tools to further fair working conditions. Is consumer pressure appropriate and sufficient? How do the codes and the standards they embrace relate to worker organizations and movements? To international human rights? To national or local law? To the rights of shareholders or other stakeholders? How can and should the codes be enforced? Can the press, NGOs and intergovernmental organizations close the global governing gap? To what extent are these codes “law,” and should they eventually be transformed into judicially enforceable hard law?
Note: Background in corporate law, labor and employment law, and/or human rights is helpful but not required. All interested students are welcome.
Students may not receive credit for this seminar and Private Enforcement of Labor and Environmental Standards in Global Supply Chains Seminar or Human Rights at the Intersection of Trade and Corporate Responsibility.