Neoliberal Capitalism and Precarious Work

Neoliberal Capitalism and Precarious Work

Ethnographies of Accommodation and Resistance

Edited by Rob Lambert and Andrew Herod

Since the renaissance of market politics on a global scale, precarious work has become pervasive. Divided into two parts, the first section of this cross-disciplinary book analyses the different forms of precarious work that have arisen over the past thirty years. These transformations are captured in ethnographically orientated chapters on sweatshops; day labour; homework; unpaid contract work of Chinese construction workers; the introduction of insecure contracting in the Korean automotive industry; and the insecurity of Brazilian cane cutters. The editors and contributors then collectively explore trade union initiatives in the face of precarious work and stimulate debate on the issue.

Chapter 11: Global unions, global framework agreements and the transnational regulation of labour standards

Mark Thomas

Subjects: geography, human geography, political geography and geopolitics, politics and public policy, political geography and geopolitics, social policy and sociology, labour policy


Over the past two decades, labour scholars and activists have argued that growing corporate mobility and power have been encouraging a ‘race to the bottom’ in labour standards. They claim that such mobility, facilitated by developments in transportation and telecommunications technologies that have ‘shrunk’ the globe, has resulted in the growth and rapid geographical dispersion of precarious work. Such interpretations are supported by a proliferation of studies of sweatshop labour practices in export processing zones (EPZs) in the Global South, as labour-intensive manufacturers have sought out regions where labour costs are low (Esbenshade 2004; Wells 2007). In turn, campaigns by labour rights activists emerging through trade unions, NGOs and transnational coalitions have shone a spotlight on prominent corporations engaged in the use of sweatshop labour and brought the issue of labour exploitation into the centre of public debate in the Global North over the production practices of Northern transnational corporations (TNCs) operating in the Global South (Seidman 2008). Part I of this book captures this phenomenon through an analysis of the various forms of precarious labour that have emerged from the opportunities presented by the free market principles of neoliberalism. These include sweatshops, day labour, homework and various forms of casualization. The chapters within Part I show that, if labour is not regulated through the imposition of defined standards, there is indeed no limit to the outer extremes of exploitation.

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