Research Handbooks in International Law series
Edited by Adelle Blackett and Anne Trebilcock
Chapter 23: Pluralism and privatization in transnational labour regulation: Experience of the International Labour Organization
Globalized production and commodity chains, fuelled by transnational corporations (TNCs) as the principal global economic actors, ‘dis-embed’ national economies and labour markets from the home-country social and labour regulations. The resulting ‘transnational regulatory void’ threatens the effectiveness of the global social contract defined by international labour standards adopted by the International Labour Organization (ILO). This chapter reviews the experience of the ILO in advancing social justice in situations where work and economic relationships are loosened from their national moorings. This task requires a re-embedding of social policy and labour regulation at national level in ways that can address the in-country impact of cross-border industrial relations. ILO standards play a critical role in guiding national action as well as transnational agreements, including between public and private actors, to respond to cross-border phenomena. Two types of such action are discussed: first, action based on ILO standards across sectoral supply chains, such as the ILO-IFC Better Work Program, the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety, and the Rana Plaza Arrangement for payments to victims and their families; second, the interaction of ILO standards with transnational industry-driven standard-setting. Such pluralistic and privatized transnational labour initiatives show promising potential, but questions remain about their capacity and impact: Can the gains realized by domestic labour law systems be sustained and grow to more comprehensively address in-country impacts of transnational economic activity? Are the remarkably effective public-private cooperation models in textiles and apparel replicable in other cross-border sectoral contexts? Further experience is needed to draw comprehensive conclusions about the impact of the emerging forms of ILO’s action on national legal and institutional capacity to govern pluralistic and privatized transnational regulatory initiatives.
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