Research Handbooks in International Law series
Edited by Adelle Blackett and Anne Trebilcock
Chapter 26: Thickening soft law through consumocratic law: A pragmatic approach
The set of rules contained in the increasing number of independent codes of conduct used as instruments of corporate governance that are enforced through demand-side, market-based mechanisms can be described as consumocratic law. In contrast with ex ante expressions of citizen preferences for particular socio-economic forms of regulation through the electoral sphere, here consumocrats (i.e. consumers) play an ex post role, and choose to purchase goods according to non-traditional criteria embodied in labelled codes. The substance of these is not confined to ‘process information’ as described by the WTO, but may also pertain to eco-systems, animals, military technologies, wage inequities, and labour conditions—in particular, those of children. One of the most sophisticated regimes of consumocratic labour law was developed by Rugmark in 1994 in Uttar Pradesh, India. Carpets bearing the Rugmark label are certified as child-labour free, and Rugmark rehabilitates former child weavers uncovered by its inspectors and manages free schools in Uttar Pradesh. Thanks to Rugmark and its consumocratic regime, the illegality of child labour in the carpet belt has been progressively recognised and thousands of deprived (working and non-working) children have had free access to a primary education of relatively good quality, many of them having subsequently engaged in higher studies. The Rugmark code, however, is not without potential concerns or limitations, due to its originality, and, when used to strictly enforce state-defined prohibitions, in the absence of a pragmatic approach, may even lead to unintended consequences, including contributing to driving child labour further underground, in some instances.
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