Enforceable Brand Agreements What Role in the Future of Transnational Private Governance and in Ongoing Labor Campaigns?September 15-16, 2022, University of St. Gallen To join the conference virtually, please register at the below zoom link: When: Sep 15, 2022 09:00 AM Zurich https://unisg.zoom.us/meeting/register/u5ErfuqprjovEt2otQnNTCtMqqLgU2ezLanI After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting. Nearly two years into the Covid-19 pandemic, the regulatory weaknesses and injustices in the global apparel industry have become painfully obvious and are far from receding. Brands have unilaterally canceled, paid suppliers substantially reduced prices for orders, or grossly extended payment terms for agreed orders. These decisions have led to devasting consequences for garment workers – from mass dismissals to job loss without severance and months of unpaid or reduced wages. A recent Business & Human Rights Resource Centre survey asked 50 fashion brands and retailers to disclose their payment terms and internal policy commitments in response to the pandemic. The results speak volumes about the failure of corporate due diligence policies. Only 3 out of 50 companies have implemented a new policy not to ask factories for price reductions/discounts to date, while below-cost orders imposed upon suppliers have hit a staggering 56%. More broadly, due diligence obligations have repeatedly been disregarded, whether by reference to an alleged lack of control over dispersed suppliers or to more unprecedented uses of force majeure clauses in purchasing agreements. At the same time, transnational labor activism in the garment industry is at one of its peak moments since the 2013 Rana Plaza disaster. The ongoing situation has spurred the labor movement to advance new demands and finally put on the table reforms that have been long on the agenda. One of the most prominent recent initiatives is the PayYourWorkers & RespectLabourRights campaign, supported by a worldwide alliance of local and global trade unions, labor rights non-governmental organizations, and self-organized worker groups. One demand is for brands to pay workers their full wages for the duration of the pandemic; another request is to protect workers’ right to organise and bargain collectively. In addition to these two, for the campaign invites brands to sign onto a negotiated severance guarantee fund to protect workers from pandemic-related and future factory closures or job loss. The picture above—with the failure of corporate self-regulation and the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights’ (UNGPs) inability to provide effective solutions for the current situation on the one hand and the emergence of complex forms of transnational labor activism on the other—provides a good snapshot of the developments in the realm of transnational workers’ rights regulation. Especially the proposed agreement for a severance fund exemplifies one of the most innovative solutions that worker alliances have proposed to face the consequences of structural imbalances in buyer-driven supply chains. The literature speaks of this strand of private regulation as multiparty bargaining models (Blasi et al. 2019), enforceable brand agreements (EBAs) (e.g., International Labor Rights Forum 2019), or, more broadly, worker-driven social responsibility (Worker-driven Social Responsibility Network). While the nomenclatures vary, at the heart of such initiatives is an engagement by unions or other worker organizations with buyer firms to improve labor standards among suppliers. Usually, this engagement finds expression through formal agreements, sometimes coupled with informal instruments, and varies in substantive coverage, geographic scope, industry and sectoral specificities. The common element is establishing legally enforceable obligations on the actors throughout the supply chain. While these practices are developing fast, the theorizing of labor agency in transnational governance is at its early stages (Graz et al. 2020). Specific case studies have expounded on the power sources —positional, associational (Anner 2013), or coalitional (Siegmann et al. 2016) —for workers to strike an agreement with buyer firms. These reflections have borrowed from international relations theory and the literature on global value chains, which has identified key features of transnational labor alliances and critical determinants of the success of their campaigns. However, more reflection is needed to grasp the complexity of labor with regard to its capacity to engage in supply chain-wide regulation. Within this context, the Conference aims to place its focus on enforceable brand agreements along three axes: - an assessment of the potentials and challenges of EBAs in the business and human rights context, including the UNGPs; - a theoretical reflection on labor agency in transnational private governance and the role of transnational labor alliances in shaping, embodying, and fostering this agency; - a political-economy analysis of the implications of EBAs for the restructuring of pervasive supply chain dynamics determining labor exploitation. In addressing the three focus points, the conference will also spotlight the challenges of labor governance and alliance in the Global South, particularly in Africa. The Global South countries, despite being the geographical host of most labor sensitive industries such as the apparel sector, workers’ voices and that of their representatives only weakly influence conversations and regulatory decisions on transnational labor governance. Hence, the conference carefully sets the floor for scholars, workers’ representatives and experts from Africa and other Global South regions. The event creates a mutual learning opportunity by putting into conversation experts, scholars, workers’ representatives and civil society organizations from Global North and South. The reflection will be nourished by a case-study analysis of three campaigns that have resulted or aim to result in adopting EBAs. To support and guide one of these campaigns, the PayYourWorkers campaign, the conference will host an expert workshop about the proposed Severance Guarantee Fund.