Research Handbook on Transnational Labour Law
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Research Handbook on Transnational Labour Law

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.
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Chapter 3: Corporate governance structures and practices: From ordeal to opportunities and challenges for transnational labour law

Isabelle Martin


Over recent decades, transnational firms have moved toward financial concentration on the one hand, and toward decentralization of production on the other. The effect has been that a greater portion of these firms’ workers are beyond the reach of positive labour law, while the firms themselves are even more powerful. In this context, the notion of corporate social responsibility has emerged, simultaneously providing opportunities to defend workers’ rights, while also presenting disadvantages and challenges for transnational labour law (TLL). Socially responsible corporate governance can helpfully link transnational firms to working conditions prevailing across their production chain, by establishing new forums for participation—through shareholder engagement, at the transnational level, and through new channels such as consumer law, corporate law, and even banking law—and enhancing the visibility of the core ILO Conventions, whose working condition standards have been incorporated into key corporate social responsibility instruments. It is nevertheless important for TLL to preserve what sets it apart, such as its focus on collective action, as socially responsible corporate governance also entails disadvantages for workers. The three major disadvantages of the approach are its focus on the maximization of shareholder value, its conception of workers as merely one among many sets of “stakeholders” that firms must take into account, and its enhancement of the power not of workers, but rather of shareholders and directors. These actors gain increased legitimacy as the best defenders of stakeholders, while the implementation of codes of conduct can increase a firm’s hold over workers across the production chain and undermine the actions of local unions. It is thus essential that TLL preserve an unshakeable focus on worker protection, as only such a focus will enable it to avoid being co-opted by socially responsible corporate governance.

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