Leveraging Labor Institutions Abroad: Why Employers Sometimes Support Labor Activists in Host-Countries.

Tuesday, 17 July 2018: 17:45
Oral Presentation
Marissa BROOKES, Department of Political Science; University of California, Riverside, USA
Sabrina ZAJAK, Ruhr-University Bochum, Germany
Why do unions and employers sometimes work together to support labor rights for workers outside the employer’s home country? What causes multinational corporations to support host-country labor activists, even when doing so seems contrary to employers’ economic interests? Neither IPE theories of global value chains, which emphasize MNCs’ pursuit of low wages and labor control, nor CPE theories centered on national institutional frameworks, which tend to treat the international economic context as exogenous, can explain these transnational cross-class alliances. Combining insights from IPE and CPE with international relations theories of transnational activism, however, can explain this phenomenon. We test the hypothesis that an employer will ally with host-country labor activists if those activists can convince a union in the employer’s home country of shared material interests and if that home union is embedded in national-level institutions that afford workers access to top management and direct input on corporate practices. Using original data we explore the dynamics of transnational cross-class alliances centered on four Western European corporations: Adidas, H&M, IKEA and Bosch. This paper speaks to ongoing debates across IPE, CPE, and IR about the transformation of employment relations institutions in global value chains, the enduring relevance of national institutions in the global economy, and new forms of international cooperation among non-state actors.