Monday, May 07, 2007

When Corporations Rule the World

Via Johann Hari, the Chinese Communist party (who, despite the name, could hardly be regarded as champions of workers rights) finally looked like it was going to get round to passing legislation to improve the rights of sweatshop workers. Only to backtrack, thanks to lobbying from...

...wait for it...

...western business interests.

Just lovely.

Other than being a damning indictment of the businesses involved, the story illustrates an important aspect of Globalisation, I think.

Presumably the businesses would have used the threat to move to other countries with weaker labour rights as a stick to lobby the Chinese government with. Which is important because history would suggest that labour markets don't function in anything near perfect competition and that countervailing forces are needed if workers are to be given a fair deal. Such forces can only arise in the appropriate institutional/legislative environment, and if businesses - who are not constrained, like workers, by borders - can use their mobility as a tool to prevent this institutional environment from arising there could indeed arise elements of a race to the bottom in terms of workers rights. I say elements because I don't think it will be a straightforward nor complete process. But, nevertheless, it the 'race' is something that could harm the chances of the most vulnerable.

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