Globalization & Labor Standards
Globalization, with its volatile mix of economic opportunity and social disruption, is redefining the experience of work and challenging national institutions that govern employment. The world of global supply chains links thousands of firms, large and small, extending across cultural and political boundaries. In this world, corporations, unions, NGOs, national governments, and even international labor, trade and financial organizations are all casting about, searching for new strategic directions and/or novel institutional arrangements for governing employment and work. But there is enormous uncertainty about their likely success – in particular, about their success in addressing three basic concerns about employment relations in the global economy: fair compensation, decent and healthy working conditions (including work hours), and rights of association. To get at these questions, I have been conducting a series of studies, all involving MIT graduate students, on labor conditions in different global supply chains.
The Case of Nike's Code of Conduct
In 2005, with a group of 8 MIT students, I conducted research on Nike that focused on its compliance programs and whether or not these led to improved working conditions among the over 800 suppliers producing goods for Nike. This project consisted of two parts. The first part focused on the collection and analysis of all factory audits of Nike's 830 suppliers located in 51 countries. The second part of the original project consisted of a series of matched pair case studies, based upon intensive field research, in Mexico, Northern China, Southern China, and Turkey. Originally we had hoped to study factories in Bangladesh and Sri Lanka but the December 26, 2004 tsunami rendered visits to these localities in January 2005 unfeasible. Countries and factories chosen for our field research were based on frequent conversations between the MIT group and Nike as well as our analyses of the audit data. We were seeking to study factories, located within the same country, manufacturing same or similar products, employing facilities of roughly the same age and size but that appeared to have very different approaches to workplace standards and compliance. We wanted to understand why factories that appeared to be so structurally similar behaved so differently vis-à-vis their workers and Nike's code of conduct/compliance program.
Based on this research, we published four papers: "Does Monitoring Improve Labor Standards?: Lessons from Nike"(Industrial and Labor Relations Review), "Beyond Codes of Conduct: Work Organization and Labor Standards at Nike's Suppliers," (International Labour Review), "The Promise and Perils of Private Voluntary Regulation: Labor Standards and Work Organization in Two Mexican Factories," (Review of International Political Economy), and "Improving Work Conditions in a Global Supply Chain, (Sloan Management Review) and organized a series of workshops associated with the Just Supply Chains initiative (a joint MIT-Stanford project). The original Nike study was also "replicated" in collaborative research projects with Philips Van Huesen ("Virtue out of Necessity: Compliance, Commitment and the Improvement of Working Conditions in Global Supply Chains," Politics and Society) and Hewlett Packard (papers forthcoming). I continue to explore these issues in different industries and with both other global brands and even lead suppliers. More recently, my collaborators and I have launched a series of randomized field experiments to assess the impact of new production/work organization/human resources management techniques on improved working conditions/labor standards in several global supply chains.
Co-author with Monica Romis, "The Promise & Perils of Private Voluntary Regulation: Labor Standards and Work Organizations in Two Mexican Factories," Review of International Political Economy, Vol. 17, No. 1 (February 2010).
Co-author with Matthew Amengual and Akshay Mangla, "Virtue out of Necessity?: Compliance, Commitment and the Improvement of Labor Conditions in Global Supply Chains," Politics & Society, Vol. 37, No 3 (September 2009): 319?351
Co-author with Fei Qin and Alberto Brause, "Does Monitoring Improve Labor Standards?: Lessons from Nike," Industrial and Labor Relations Review, Volume 61, Issue 1 (October 2007): 3?31.
Co-author with Thomas Kochan, Monica Romis, and Fei Qin, "Beyond corporate codes of conduct: Work organization and labour standards at Nike's suppliers," International Labour Review, Vol. 146 Issue 1/2, (March-June 2007): 21?37.
The Challenge of Sustainability