Contested working conditions in the global production of garments


The project researches transnational contentions on working conditions in global supply chains from two perspectives. First it introduces a new methodological approach - the discourse attribution analysis – to the study of labor rights struggles in the highly contested field of global production of garments. This novel approach aims to illustrate the political disputes, claims and attributions of responsibilities and competences among a range of public and private actors about the regulation of working conditions in global production networks. The method of attribution analysis allows to uncover the characteristics of main speakers, their type of attribution making, their sense making of the relation between public and private regulation as well as their main strategies and ways of attribution making and justifications. The method is applied to reconstruct the international debate on working conditions in the Bangladesh garment industry comparing New York Times articles with the major English Bangladesh news “The Financial Express”. Second, the project explores the role and contribution of cross-border networks between trade unions and social movement organizations to trade unions and movement building in Bangladesh after Rana Plaza.

Further Information

The collapse of the Rana Plaza building in Bangladesh, in which more than 1000 workers died, significantly intensified the international debate about working conditions and labor rights in the global supply chains in emerging economies. Yet despite the high amount of media attention and research on the consequences of this incident, in particular the introduction of the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, an analysis of the international media debate is still missing. This can at least partially be explained with the neglect of news analysis as an instrument to measure debates and discourses about labor regulation in global production networks, especially if one looks beyond dominant newspapers in the US and Europe. Adopting and modifying the attribution analysis, a novel discourse analytical approach developed by Jochen Roose with Jürgen Gerhards and Anke Offerhaus (2007, 2009 and 2013) as well as with Maria Kousis and Moritz Sommer (2014) has several advantages to study transnational contentions of labor rights in global supply chains. First, it allows to measure the relation between the different actors, their claims and their attributions of responsibilities and competences across borders over time. This is relevant as public discussions about concepts, politics and practices of regulations in global supply chains are often communicated through the media, where different social practices have to be justified, and who should regulate what and how becomes contested. Looking at attributions of responsibility helps to reveal the political contentions and sense making of political conflicts about labor regulation under conditions of complex regulatory environments, layers of regulations and multiple sources of power and influence.
In addition to the media analysis, the project qualitatively explores the development and role of cooperation between national and international trade unions and social movement organization in the context of the development of new forms of transnational governance in form of the Bangladesh Accord. Until now there are several studies about the emergence, development, and effectiveness of the Accord and its interactions with other national and domestic regulatory instruments. The implications for trade union building and possibilities and challenges for transnational labor solidarity remain underexplored. This is why interviews in Bangladesh and Europe are conducted to identify in how far transnational cross-border cooperation affects trade union and labor movement building under conditions of regulatory complexity.

First results will be presented at the International Conference: Transnational Labour Rights Activism across Asia and Beyond, 17.-18. September 2015, Institute for Social Movements, Ruhr-University Bochum

Project management: Sabrina Zajak
Associate: Saida Ressel
Duration: March to October 2015
Funding: Mercator Stiftung (Mercator Research Center Ruhr, MERCUR)