April 15, 2015

Transnational Workers Rights: Emerging Strategies from the Global North and South

This report was commissioned by the Society for Labour and Development (based in India), the Project of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ProDESC, based in Mexico), and the National Guestworkers Alliance, three labor rights organizations developing transnational strategies for organizing workers in low-wage industries. Economic globalization has created new strains on labor forces and communities, and the increasing mobility of capital (and with it the threat of exit, disinvestment, and job loss) poses unique challenges to traditional models of labor organizing.

The substantial power wielded by transnational corporations and their supplier firms must be met head-on through transnational worker organizing that raises standards across supply chains and in workplaces throughout the Global North and South. The leverage transnational corporations exert over national development agendas, regulatory systems, and labor market institutions must be counteracted by collective strategies on the part of workers and their organizations to ensure that the global race to the bottom in wages and working conditions is reversed. Without such strategies, global inequalities will surely continue to widen.

This report identifies several key trends shaping the global economy, and highlights innovative strategies to build worker power, raise labor standards, reduce poverty, and increase the returns from trade for low-wage workers and their communities. The report has four chapters.

The first examines three major trends shaping employer demand for labor—financialization, the globalization of production, and the informalization of employment—and how these have shaped emergent approaches to transnational worker organizing. Chapters two, three and four present case studies of transnational organizing:

(a) the Asia Floor Wage campaign which seeks to establish a regional living wage in Asia’s apparel industry;

(b) ProDESC’s approach to bi-national organizing focusing on the impacts of extractive industries in Mexico and temporary guestworker programs in the US; and

(c) the National Guestworkers Alliance’s efforts to organize workers along the retail supply chain, with a focus on an organizing campaign at Wal-Mart supplier, C.J.’s Seafood, in the US.

This report was funded by the Ford Foundation.

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