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Session Overview
Parallel Session 8.5: Enforcement Innovation: Lessons from the Garment Sector
Wednesday, 10/Jul/2019:
9:00am - 10:30am

Session Chair: Lisa Tortell
Location: Room VI (R3 south)

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Access to Justice after Rana Plaza

Youbin Kang

University of Wisconsin - Madison, United States of America

The problem of access to justice by the have-nots, especially oriented towards changing institutionalized legal practices, has been a central question in the law and society literature. For garment workers in Bangladesh, structural barriers to their ability in finding solace in the domestic legal system are multiple – many workers are illiterate, many workers are not aware of their rights, the costs of litigation are high, the backlog of the courts are significant, and non-compliance to the law in garment factories are widespread. This lack of justice for garment workers was tragically materialized in the Rana Plaza disaster. In 2013 more than a thousand workers died in a collapsed building which housed multiple unauthorized floors of sewing facilities in a building called Rana Plaza in Savar, Bangladesh. Following this disaster, a variety of legal and institutional reforms have been introduced in the garment sector. How did the critical moment in 2013 change patterns of how garment workers file for grievances?

Avenues of grievance redress for garment workers have expanded after 2013, particularly through the funding of international donors and transnational institutions such as the global framework agreements signed between IndustriALL and four multinational brands. The increased fori and resources for access to justice point to significant changes in workers’ legal activities. I examine these changes through a case study of a prominent legal aid NGO. The dataset obtained from the NGO lists 2027 grievances raised from 2004 to 2017 (1517 after dropping missing values). Descriptive statistics from this database reveals two particularly interesting trends. Firstly, there was a significant increase in grievance procedure related cases. Disaggregating this data by the judgments issued by the court, most grievance procedures related cases from 2009-12 were dismissed due to the absence of the petitioner, while in 2013-17, there have been more varied outcomes. Secondly, after 2013, the data shows that women plaintiffs have received more money through courts in wage-related lawsuits compared to men. The amount increased by threefold for women and twofold for men between the periods of 2009-12 and 2013-17. This trend is most interesting given that the female-share of participation in courts has decreased over the years. Qualitative interviews with lawyers, workers, a judge, and trade unions point to the increased consciousness of workers, and the latent effects of gendered intervention by transnational actors as leading explanations of the changes described.

The Brazilian Labour Prosecution Office and Business Liability for Human Rights Violations in Supply Chains

Flávia Scabin, Tamara Brezighello Hojaij

Fundação Getulio Vargas, Brazil

The process of economic globalization led to the development of new business models, based on complex supply chains, extended across borders and multiple jurisdictions. This new dynamics altered employment and production relations, creating opportunities and challenges for compliance with human and labour rights by businesses. Global supply chains enabled buyers to reduce costs by comparing production strategies in different locations, as well as enabled workers’ access to high-skilled jobs. Hence, suppliers in the lower links of supply chains often operate in informal markets and are subjected to price competition and tight delivery times. Combined, these conditions can favour the non-compliance with and sometimes the violation of human and labour rights standards.

In Brazil, this context challenges the foundations of businesses’ liability for rights violations, since the current legislation relies on the direct link between the damage and the action or omission that caused it. Hence, the Labour Prosecution Office (LPO) and the Judiciary have been holding businesses liable for conditions analogous to slavery throughout supply chains, alleging their complicity, as they do not inspect suppliers. In such cases, both businesses and LPO have preferred to settle a Conduct Adjustment Agreement (CAA), instead of waiting years for a Court’s definitive solution. CAAs, consequently, have been a recurring tool involving conditions analogous to slavery in supply chains in different sectors.

This paper aims at comprehending what are the parameters and criteria used by the LPO in the CAAs signed with apparel businesses, focusing on operations in the Municipality of São Paulo. The study draws on data mining and qualitative data analysis.

This paper contributes to the literature on international business and emerging economies by (i) promoting convergence between the decent work and business and human rights agendas in the Brazilian context and clarifying (ii) the LPO role in guaranteeing human and labour rights and (iii) the challenges to overcome limits to law enforcement in the case of supply chains.

The study concludes that the CAAs are a valuable instrument to meet the growing social expectation for business to respect human and labour rights in their supply chains. They establish covenants that hold businesses in the end of the chain liable for rights violations, going beyond traditional employment relationships. However, these covenants are still grounded in corporate social responsibilities practices, such as inspection audits, in concrete often limited to the level of the factory and first-tier suppliers, missing a systemic and preventive approach.

Decent Work Regulation in Africa: A Global Multi-scalar Dialogue on Labour Standards Enforcement in Southern Africa

Deirdre McCann1, Kelly Pike2, Debbie Collier3

1University of Durham, United Kingdom; 2York University, Canada; 3University of Cape Town, South Africa

Better Work (BW) is a joint partnership of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and International Finance Corporation (IFC) with the aim of improving labour standards compliance in the global clothing industry without negatively impacting supplier competitiveness. It currently operates in eight countries, bringing together global buyers, local governments, employers and unions to engage in social dialogue around this aim. A 6-year study of BW Lesotho examined whether BW led to sustainable improvements in labour standards compliance. Data included 55 focus groups with 426 workers during four waves of data collection between 2011 and 2017. Findings indicated that improvements across a number of compliance areas were enabled by worker voice mechanisms established by BW Lesotho at the factory level. However, in the wake of BW’s departure from Lesotho, conditions worsened.

This paper seeks to better understand the apparent lack of domestic regulatory capacity in Lesotho, and examine the possibilities for ensuring the sustained improvement of labour standards enforcement, along with the obstacles preventing this from happening. Through a pilot project on enforcing labour laws in Southern Africa, this paper aims to better understand the limitations and strengths of multi-stakeholder models in South Africa and Lesotho. The focus is on whether these models provide a better way to enforce labour rights. To investigate this question, fieldwork was carried out in the garment sectors in South Africa and Lesotho during 2018. This research involved interviews with stakeholders in both countries including government officials, employers, unions, NGOs and other local initiatives, and workers themselves.

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