White Hats or Don Quixotes? Human Rights Vigilantes in the Global Economy
In: Emerging Labor Market Institutions for the Twenty-First Century
With the continuing expansion of global economic integration, labor standards in developingcountries have become a hot button issue. One result has been a proliferation of efforts to usethe market to put pressure directly on multinational corporations to improve wages andworking conditions in their overseas operations and to insist that their suppliers do so as well.This paper analyzes the dynamics of these efforts in terms of a 'market for standards' in whichconsumers, stimulated by human rights activists, demand that corporations improve workingconditions in supplier factories. The paper presents evidence that such a consumer demandexists and analyzes the incentives corporations face to respond to it. It examines the nature ofthe critical intermediary role played by activists in stimulating consumer demands andassesses the outcomes in the major anti-sweatshop campaigns of the 1990s. The paper alsoaddresses the limitations of such consumer-based campaigns and the concern expressed bysome that these activist campaigns may do more harm than good, by deterring investment inand trade with poor countries. It concludes with an overall assessment of when ¿doing good¿actually does good.
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