Date of Degree

6-2016

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph.D.

Program

Political Science

Advisor

Thomas G. Weiss

Committee Members

Thomas G. Weiss

Stephanie Golob

Mark Ungar

Subject Categories

Business Law, Public Responsibility, and Ethics | Comparative Politics | Economic Policy | International and Comparative Labor Relations | International Business | International Law | International Relations | International Trade Law | Labor and Employment Law | Labor Economics | Policy History, Theory, and Methods | Political Economy | Transnational Law | Work, Economy and Organizations

Keywords

international labour organization, world bank, labor standards, corporate social responsibility, apparel, industrialization

Abstract

This dissertation is a case study of Better Work, a program run by the International Labor Organization and the International Finance Corporation. It aims to improve working conditions and productivity in the apparel industry. The purpose of this case study is to examine the role that international organizations can play in global governance. The research presented here comes from interviews, document analysis, and an examination of quantitative data on factories’ working conditions. In-person interviews were conducted in the United States, Switzerland, Vietnam, and Indonesia; many phone interviews took place with individuals in other countries. Both publicly available documents and internal reports provided by Better Work were analyzed. Publicly-available quantitative data on changes to working conditions are also examined.

Four conclusions from this research stand out. First, Better Work is able to satisfy its many stakeholders by focusing on “win-win” solutions; these are solutions that benefit multiple stakeholders. This has led to significant, sustainable improvements. The program has been less effective in promoting “zero-sum” solutions wherein improvements to working conditions harm other actors in the industry. Second, the key to Better Work’s success has been training factories in management systems and specific topics. Most international labor rights initiatives have focused almost exclusively on monitoring - and these initiatives have achieved very little. The experience of Better Work shows that monitoring must be complemented with training to be effective. Third, the International Labor Organization has acted as an “anchor” for Better Work, allowing the program to remain impartial amongst the competing demands of its stakeholders. Fourth, the research emphasizes the importance of local stakeholders in promoting the scope and sustainability of Better Work’s efforts.

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