Table of Contents

Research Handbook on Transnational Labour Law

Research Handbook on Transnational Labour Law

Research Handbooks in International Law series

Edited by Adelle Blackett and Anne Trebilcock

The editors’ substantive introduction and the specially commissioned chapters in the Handbook explore the emergence of transnational labour law as a field, along with its contested contours. The expansion of traditional legal methods, such as treaties, is juxtaposed with the proliferation of contemporary alternatives such as indicators, framework agreements and consumer-led initiatives. Key international and regional institutions are studied for their coverage of such classic topics as freedom of association, equality, and sectoral labour standard-setting, as well as for the space they provide for dialogue. The volume underscores transnational labour law’s capacity to build bridges, including on migration, climate change and development.

Chapter 9: Racism and the regulation of migrant labour

Adrian A. Smith

Subjects: law - academic, human rights, labour, employment law, public international law


Labour law scholars, in their attempts to revitalize the practice and study of their discipline, have recently turned toward the study of development. This chapter interrogates this turn, drawing on Amartya Sen’s human freedoms or capability approach, as well as on the political economic foundations of labour migration, understood through an anti-racist, historical materialist lens. Sen provides a means to address the regulation of temporary international labour migration, which has re-emerged in the early twenty-first century, representing a serious challenge for labour law and development enthusiasts. The development project has also faced trenchant criticisms for its unwillingness to deploy the concepts of ‘race,’ racialization and racism to explain power, privilege, exclusion, differential inclusion and inequality. The production of ‘migrant labour,’ in particular, cannot be explained without a consideration of how these socio-historical processes and practices of differentiated belonging are informed by racialization and racism. The chapter constructs a Polanyi-esque account of the efforts to dis-embed and re-embed development theory within wider ethical, equity and socio-historical considerations. It discusses transnational labour regulation, focusing on the project of ‘migration management.’. Through a case study on south-north labour migration to Canada, it turns attention to the global racialized class differentiations reproduced through migrant labour regulatory regimes. Foreign labour is rendered racialized, unfree and migrant, productive labouring bodies with a deep reliance on transnationalized production. The chapter’s underlying premise is that the racialized nature of temporary labour migration to Canada and elsewhere is not an historical accident, coincidence or twist of fate. The trajectory of these racialized class dynamics extends back at least to the commencement of new world enslavement and yet it also invites the possibilities of collective resistance struggles of which the Haitian Revolution provides the paradigmatic example.

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