Research Handbooks in International Law series
Edited by Adelle Blackett and Anne Trebilcock
Chapter 25: Transnational private labour regulation, consumer-citizenship and the consumer imaginary
Transnational corporations’ efforts to avoid being associated with abusive labour conditions in their supply chains is a key dynamic in today’s business environment. The threat that consumers might punish bad corporate actors is a key driver of transnational private labour regulation and of various supply chain governance initiatives, and it is a powerful tool of transnational labour activist networks. The increased regulatory role of consumers that feel ethically and even politically obligated toward workers in global supply chains suggests the rise of a new form of transnational consumer-citizenship. But, there is a paradox at work here that is similar to one that has been noted in Benedict Anderson’s work on political citizenship. That is, the relationships between consumers and workers in the global supply chain are largely imagined. Transnational labour activist networks as well as companies increasingly foster and utilize this consumer imaginary by acting as intermediaries between workers and consumer-citizens. The imagined nature of these various relationships presents both opportunities and perils for evolving forms of transnational private labour governance and for the role of consumer citizens in international economic regulation.
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