, 35 tweets, 7 min read Read on Twitter
Bangladeshi garment workers - making our clothes - went on strike this month, calling for a higher minimum wage

Police fired back, with rubber bullets and tear gas

1 worker killed, 50 injured

Factory managers have dismissed 5000 workers

aljazeera.com/news/2019/01/5… #bizhumanrights
The Government of Bangladesh tries to boost exports by keeping labour costs low.

Labour repression is thus fundamental to their comparative advantage.

Global brands incentivise these abuses by turning a blind eye, continuing to source from Bangladesh, while squeezing prices.
Over the past ten years, garment workers have only secured wage hikes by mobilising collectively: militant protests, disrupting production, forcing manufacturers and government to pay attention.

But they are always met with violence: to deter future activism, & keep costs low.
How can we tackle this?

3 options:
Private regulation is the standard response:

corporate codes of conduct, independent audits.

But there is very little evidence this improves conditions,
Or strengthens workers' rights.
The problem with private regulation is that it presumes we can transcend the broader political economy

Insulate factories as islands of better work,

Notwithstanding crackdowns, repression

- which stop workers mobilising for better pay & protections.
Politics matters - right?

Especially the strength of organised labour:

- publicising and decrying abuses;
- disrupting productivity through collective action;
- campaigning for reform; and
- securing concerted increases in the minimum wage

Maybe outsiders should try to strengthen trade unions - via capacity building, training, networking, financing, social dialogue?
But even if a trade union receives external financing, this doesn't tackle labour repression:

The threat of dismissals (see 1st tweet), blacklisting, thugs, police brutality, legal obstacles to trade union registration

Aid is nothing compared to the coercive power of the state
Foreign aid might undermine organised labour:

Fostering reporting and accountability to external donors

With less incentive for membership recruitment & accountability.
So a third option is trade-labour conditionalities:

But two problems:

1) Conditionalities aren't always enforced, so don't nec. lead to improvements in situ

2) You're playing a global game of whack-a-mole. Buyers can just source from another country, to avoid costly tariffs.
So we really don't know how to abate labour repression

Nothing has worked thus far

CSR is a con
Organised labour is brutally repressed
Trade-labour conditionalities arent always enforced


Governments may reduce labour repression if they perceive this as conducive to export growth.

This happened in Vietnam & Bangladesh...
To join TPP, the Gov of Vietnam announced it would allow independent trade unions

In Bangladesh, after global condemnation of Rana Plaza & fears of buyers leaving en masse, the Gov rescinded restrictions on unions.

Both govs introduced pro-labour reforms to promote exports. 💰
With this high-level authorisation, Vietnamese & Bangladeshi activists & reformists became less fearful, & mobilised for substantive change
In Vietnam, independent unions used to be seen as seditious.

Not something you'd openly discuss. Never seeing others talk about it, reformists felt despondent, & stayed quiet.
But Vietnam was keen to join TPP - to boost market access.

US Congress insisted on independent unions, as a condition for membership.

This incentivised & legitimised much more open discussions.
Reformists saw wider support & became emboldened!
Cue positive feedback loop!
The Gov announced Resolution 6: permitting independent unions.

They perceived pro-labour reforms as conducive to export growth.
Meanwhile in Bangladesh, after the horrific Rana Plaza & global media outcry, the Government feared buyers would leave the country en masse.

The EU also threatened trade sanctions.

So to preserve exports, the Gov reduced restrictions on unions
And - just like Vietnam - this sparked hope!

Activists mobilised! Organised! Registered more unions!

Seeing high-level authorisation, they became more optimistic, so invested in organising.

Went on strike, secured a pay hike.
That's where the good news ends.
The Government of Bangladesh soon realised that buyers were staying put.

Exports continued to soar
Global brands turned a blind eye to abuses
And they squeezed prices, reducing profit margins
The gov now saw labour repression as key to export success

So clamped down, again.
The EU & US chide & reprimand Bangladesh.

But never follow through.

So the Gov of Bangladesh ramps up labour repression:

- stopped registering unions
- huge protests in 2016 were met with police violence, mass arrests, dismissals
- and again this year (see first tweet).
Okay, now let's go back to Vietnam.

Remember I was telling you a 'good news story'...

The Government just announced it would allow independent trade unions!
Many human rights activists saw this as a stepping stone to democratisation!!
Well, 3 days after that announcement something happened that no one anticipated...
Trump was elected President of the USA.

He withdrew from TPP.

There is no longer any economic incentive to permit independent trade unions.

In 2018, Vietnam signed other trade agreements (with the EU & CPTPP) but neither insisted on independent unions.
So reform stagnated.

Everything went quiet

Discussions ground to a halt

Labour reform was taken off the legislative agenda

Vietnam passed new laws punishing dissent (closely modeled on China's surveillance laws).

The crackdown increased.

So, both governments reduced labour repression because they thought it would increase exports

- in Bangladesh's case this meant maintaining existing buyers
- in Vietnam it was about expanding market access through TPP

But the underlying motivation = global economic incentives.
But those incentives were short-lived.

That's bad news for Bangladeshi & Vietnamese workers.

But (and apologies for flippancy), it's good news for science.

Because we can see quite neatly that these govs only rescind repression in the presence of export incentives.
And even if these governments only intended their policy reforms to be mere veneers, to placate the international community,

They were still really significant!

Emboldening activists, who tried to mobilise for substantive reform!
So we now need to work out how to *entrench* these economic incentives.

I'm not convinced by trade-agreements.

As long as buyers prioritise low prices & can cheaply shift sourcing to other countries, they'll just hop over tariffs, to other cheap, labour repressive places
Corporate accountability is one option:

Making *our* companies liable for abuses in their global supply chains.

Fear of litigation might incentivise more scrupulous sourcing, & abate competition for labour repression.
Naive pipe dream?

I'm not so sure.

As of 2018, ALL large French companies must reduce risks of abuses in their supply chains, or else be liable

The Swiss National Council voted for similar legislation

And the Gov of Luxembourg has called on the EU to adopt this!
Okay, that's enough twitter for one evening!

Hope it was vaguely interesting 🤗

If you want more details, here's my paper on Vietnam researchgate.net/publication/32…

& corporate accountability researchgate.net/publication/32…

The comparative piece is yours on request.

Thank you for listening!
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