Research Project: Labour governance in global production networks

Labour governance in global production networks: Assessing labour standards in a new generation of public procurement legislation and trade agreements linked to market access into the European Union (LG-GPN)

German Research Fund (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, DFG) (Principal Investigator from 2019 to 2021) 

For many developing countries, integration into global production networks (GPNs) as manufacturing locations is a key development strategy (Altenburg 2006; Staritz 2016). However, GPNs have contributed to poor working conditions and labour violations in developing countries. Key examples are the clothing and electronics industries, which have faced low wages, hostility against trade unions, deaths from building collapses, worker suicides, and forced labour (Yasmin 2014; Verite 2014). Public and private governance measures to improve working conditions, such as national labour laws and private standards, have largely been unsuccessful in developing countries (Locke 2013; Mayer and Gereffi 2010; Marx et al. 2016). While research on labour governance in GPNs has focused on these more traditional governance measures (Barrientos 2008; Büthe and Mattli 2011), we know less about the effects a new generation of labour standards tied to market access into large consumer markets can have on working conditions in developing countries. The proposed LG-GPN project aims to fill this gap by researching the impact labour standards that are part of a new generation of public procurement legislation and trade agreements in the world’s largest consumer market – the European Union (EU) – has on labour governance in a key developing country exporter – Vietnam. The LG-GPN project will specifically analyse labour provisions in new public procurement legislation amongst the leading EU member states of Germany, Austria, the Netherlands, United Kingdom and Sweden, and as part of the EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement (FTA). It will assess in what way these labour standards improve labour governance in the clothing and electronics industries in Vietnam which are main export sectors into the EU. The case study on Vietnam is highly relevant because it is a developing country that is deeply embedded in GPNs and is an important trading partner to the EU. Vietnam is also signatory to the most comprehensive and advanced EU FTA with regards to labour conditions. The research will be conducted using an inter-disciplinary theoretical framework that combines the GPN analytical approach originating in economic geography with emerging theories in transnational regulatory governance from political science and employment relations in labour sociology. The objective of the LG-GPN project is to advance theory on transnational labour governance in GPNs and increase our empirical understanding of labour governance through an under-researched set of labour standards and an emerging economy in the Asia-Pacific region with strong economic ties to the EU.