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Transnational Labour Campaigns: Can the Logic of the Market Be Turned Against Itself?


  • Gay Seidman

    1. Professor of Sociology at the University of Wisconsin, Madison (8112B Social Science, 1180 Observatory Drive, Madison, WI 53706, USA) is the author most recently of Beyond the Boycott: Labor Rights, Human Rights, and Transnational Activism (Russell Sage Foundation Press, 2007), from which much of the material included in this article is drawn. She has published widely on labour movements, gender issues, and development in Southern Africa and Latin America.
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Many discussions of how to improve working conditions around the world — especially in poor and developing regions — suggest that transnational activists could ‘name and shame’ employers, using independent monitors and the threat of consumer boycotts to push international brands to monitor conditions in their suppliers around the world. Drawing on a comparative study of independent monitoring in South Africa, India and Guatemala, this article suggests that ‘voluntary’ monitoring systems may have limited impact, as non-governmental groups involved in monitoring discover they are dependent on employers for access to worksites and for funding. Further, in focusing on issues that will attract international consumer attention, independent monitoring schemes may weaken local workers' ability to bargain on their own behalf.