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Race to the bottom

30 April 2018

Woman using sewing machine

Academics, activists and industry practitioners will critically review the economic growth and employment opportunities brought about by globalised production at the 31st Employment Research Unit Conference in Cardiff University on 10 and 11 May 2018.

The two-day programme, hosted by Cardiff Business School, will consider the growing challenges of exploitative forms of work and forced labour on Day One, before moving on to review employment relations in global supply chains in Day Two.

Asymmetric power relations

While it is estimated that 80% of world trade passes through supply chains, creating approximately 453 million jobs in the process, asymmetric power relations across these networks has increased the potential for exploitative practices to exist.

Dr Jean Jenkins, Reader in Employment Relations at Cardiff Business School and one of the conference’s organisers, said: “Despite the increased economic activity that industrialization can and does bring, competition between different levels of capital in international supply chains often results in labour being a prime source of cost saving for local employers, with the potential for the degradation of working conditions...”

“This is absolutely the case in labour-intensive sectors, such as the garments, leather and electronics sectors, for example, where workers who are subject to multiple layers of social and economic disadvantage are drawn into low paid employment and have little real choice over how and where they work.”

Dr Jean Jenkins Reader in Employment Relations

Enforcement and non-compliance

Efforts to improve working conditions across supply chains through legal regulation at the level of the nation-state and corporate social responsibility commitments by global brands have been found wanting in the face of non-enforcement and non-compliance.

In engaging with the broad topic of exploitative work and employment relations in global supply chains, the conference aims to draw together observations from a number of disciplines including human resource management, the sociology of work and industrial relations.

A programme of international keynote speakers are set to contribute, including:

  • Professor Andrew Crane from the University of Bath. Crane is the Director of the Centre for Business, Organizations and Society. His ongoing research project investigates combatting modern slavery through business leadership at the bottom of the supply chain.
  • Klara Skrivankova from Anti-Slavery International. Skrivankova is the UK and Europe Programme Manager, and Senior Private Sector Advisor for ASI and specialises in advising on human rights due diligence.
  • Professor Sarosh Kuruvilla from ILR School, Cornell University, US. Kuruvilla is Professor of Industrial Relations, Asian Studies and Public Affairs and currently directs the New Conversations Project: Sustainable Labor Standards In Global Supply Chains at Cornell University.
  • Professor Richard M. Locke from the Watson Institute of International and Public Affairs at Brown University, USA. Locke is an authority on international labour rights, comparative political economy, employment relations and corporate responsibility.

A special issue of the British Journal of Industrial Relations focusing on the link between supply chain decisions and employment conditions will accompany the conference.

Register your attendance now and contribute to the debate around exploitative work.

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