The project aims to bring together academics and practitioners to examine changing global regulation of labour standards. Discussions have been moving away from the corporate social responsibility paradigm and towards a greaterfocus on the forms and nature of the employment relationship itself. This phenomenon is arguably a reflection of radical changes in employment relationships as well as a shift in conceptualizations of how labour practices may best be regulated.
The growth of informal working, the influx of migrant workers into workforces in industrialized societies, and a growing culture of legal regulation are further factors impacting this discussion. While the phenomenon of ‘Informal’ work has been relatively well studied, there remains an acute need for the exchange of comparative data and theoretical perspectives at global level. The same applies to the phenomena of contract, agency and migrant labour all of which are poorly understood and in need of concerted analysis. The increased use of contract and agency labour represents a distinct weakening of the employment relationship and arguably leads to the creation of a divided workforce.
The increasing incidence of migrant labour both within and between countries has been the subject ofsome studies, yet remains a relatively unexplored area from a global perspective, especially when viewed in a rights context.
The development of ‘financialisation’ and in particular private equity in all its different forms has major consequences for employees and representative institutions worldwide.The growing gap between ownership and management creates uncertainties, fuzziness and ambiguities in employment relationships. Historic relationships within collective bargaining that link productivity, profitability and wage fixing are becoming increasingly eroded. Employees are to some extent able to act as stakeholders through their pensions, which are assuming greater importance in investment portfolios. Gathering information and perspectives on these matters may help to establish how far an ‘international division of labour’ exists, and to determine what forms it takes. Although initial research is taking place within the Global Union Federations about the impact of private equity on the employment relationship, this financial form and its consequences need to be better understood, with a particular emphasis on the need for trade unions to manage issues in the workplace.
Historically such issues have fallen within the purview of national regulatory systems; however the intersection of regional and global standards are generating increasing complexities. While many different forms of soft regulation have emerged at global level, the changing politics of discussion during the ‘credit crunch’ raise questions as to whether these standards could develop into a system with significant purchase on labour standards. The emerging standards include the OECD’s Declaration on International Investment and MNEs, the long extant OECD Guidelines on Multinational enterprises, bilateral agreements such as those proposed by the International Institute for Sustainable Development the UN’s Global Compact and National Contact Points for the ILO Core Labour Standards. Regulation via collective bargaining, conceptualised by some as part of an ‘emergent global system of industrial relations’ is also a factor in this discussion. Since 2000, Global Union Federations have signed an increasing number of International Framework Agreements, and some limited initiatives have been taken to evaluate their impact at local level. Yet it remains difficult precisely to gauge their impact in changing the state of affairs at workplace level. The project will be enabled through a series of four seminars open to both academics and practitioners following which working papers and other publications will be disseminated through related networks.
The first seminar took place at Middlesex University, London in January 2010 and examined the problems of Contract and Agency labour.
The second seminar, on Migration and Labour Regulation, was held on Thursday September 2nd 2010 at the International of Slavery Museum in Liverpool. Speakers included representatives of major institutions concerned with migration and migrant workers, migrant worker groups, and academics. Case studies were presented of problems facing migrant workers from across the world.
Our third seminar was on the problems of labour regulation caused by Private Equity held at the University of Geneva in June 2011.
The Final Seminar ‘Constructing Research Agendas‘ will be held at Middlesex University on Monday January 16th 2012.
The project is based at Middlesex University Business School, London, UK and is supported by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). Key participants are Professor Martin Upchurch (firstname.lastname@example.org); Professor Richard Croucher (email@example.com); Professor Joshua Castellino (firstname.lastname@example.org); and Elizabeth Cotton (email@example.com).