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Supply chains have become the dominant mode of production in the modern economy: multinational corporations have largely disengaged from much of production and instead outsourced work to factories, often in developing economies to take advantage of low labour costs. While the awareness of this aspect of the model was widely known, the sheer scale of the Rana Plaza disaster in 2013, which killed over 1100 workers when a building collapsed, shocked the world.  The disaster brought into focus the lack of meaningful governance of workers health and safety in global supply chains. 

Since the disaster, Professor Jimmy Donaghey and his colleague, Professor Juliane Reinecke (King’s College, London), have been carrying out research into initiatives to improve the governance of labour standards in the Bangladesh Ready Made Garments supply chain.  The key underpinning theme to the research has been the extent to which worker interests and voice have played a role in the design and implementation of initiatives developed in the industry. In particular, the research has focussed on two initiatives:

  • The Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh: The Accord is a programme for improving worker safety in Bangladeshi factories which ran from May 2013 to April 2020. The research highlights three features which mark a significant change in transnational labour governance: the role of worker voice at transnational and factory level; the collective nature of the Accord in bringing together over 200 global brands, two global union federations and four international labour NGOS; and the legally binding nature of the agreement.
  • The Joint Ethical Trading Initiative’s Social Dialogue programme: This programme is an initiative to develop worker voice at the factory level in Bangladesh. The research highlights the role which Multinational Corporations play in developing worker voice in these factories.   While these roles were identified as positive contributions, the research also highlights a number of contradictions which giving this governance role to MNCs threw up.

Bringing the two streams of research together is the unifying theme that worker voice is an essential element of developing meaningful transnational labour governance.