Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Global Labor Governance: Organizing, Legal Mobilization and Decolonization

Labor movements around the world have explored various forms of global labor governance mechanisms to hold multinational companies accountable for ensuring workers’ and human rights throughout their supply chains. This article examines H&M’s Global Framework Agreement (H&M GFA) and its implementation in three Asian producing countries: Bangladesh, Cambodia, and India to develop some insights on global labor governance. H&M commits to foster trade union and labor rights but is not legally obligated to take steps to actualize those rights. The article contextualizes and signify GFAs importance within international human rights and labor law by referring to business and human rights instruments and by utilizing a social movement perspective. Drawing from three main social movement oriented theoretical disciplines: organizing, legal mobilization and decolonization, this paper evaluates the H&M GFA and GFAs generally. The article pays particular attention to GFAs’ impact on gender because the majority of the workers in the global garment industry are women. In the Asian context, GFAs must be strengthened to be binding on companies to enforce the fundamental labor right to freedom of association, collective bargaining and non-discrimination. They must proactively involve national unions in the negotiation, implementation, and enforcement of the agreement to ensure their full participation and seek their meaningful input on the socio-political context of the producing countries. They must be conceived with a grassroots, multi-layered approach to governance to enable workers from the factory level to the international level to exercise their power and agency to establish labor standards and resolve disputes, form worker-led organizations such as trade unions, and facilitate implementation procedures that are binding on multinational corporations. Further, in the garment industry, the GFAs must proactively address gender related concerns and provide clear avenues for women workers to raise these issues. Notwithstanding these challenges to GFAs, among labor governance strategies within international human rights law, it has the most promise in actualizing labor and human rights.