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White Hats or Don Quixotes? Human Rights Vigilantes in the Global Economy

  • Kimberly Ann Elliott
  • Richard Freeman

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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Paper provided by Centre for Economic Performance, LSE in its series CEP Discussion Papers with number dp0638.

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Date of creation: May 2004
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Handle: RePEc:cep:cepdps:dp0638
Contact details of provider: Web page: http://cep.lse.ac.uk/_new/publications/series.asp?prog=CEP

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  1. Amos Tversky & Daniel Kahneman, 1979. "Prospect Theory: An Analysis of Decision under Risk," Levine's Working Paper Archive 7656, David K. Levine.
  2. Freeman, Richard B, 1997. "Working for Nothing: The Supply of Volunteer Labor," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 15(1), pages S140-66, January.
  3. Michael D. Bordo & Claudia Goldin & Eugene N. White, 1998. "The Defining Moment: The Great Depression and the American Economy in the Twentieth Century," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number bord98-1, May.
  4. Richard B. Freeman, 1998. "Spurts in Union Growth: Defining Moments and Social Processes," NBER Chapters, in: The Defining Moment: The Great Depression and the American Economy in the Twentieth Century, pages 265-296 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  5. Kimberly Ann Elliott & Richard B. Freeman, 2003. "Can Labor Standards Improve under Globalization?," Peterson Institute Press: All Books, Peterson Institute for International Economics, number 338, May.
  6. Gary Clyde Hufbauer & Jeffrey J. Schott & Kimberly Ann Elliott, 1990. "Economic Sanctions Reconsidered: 2nd Edition," Peterson Institute Press: All Books, Peterson Institute for International Economics, number 82, May.
  7. Brown, D.K. & Dearorff, A.V. & Stern, R.M., 1993. "International Labor Standards and Trade: A Theoretical Analysis," Working Papers 333, Research Seminar in International Economics, University of Michigan.
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