Better Work: Problems with Exporting the Better Factories Cambodia Project to Jordan, Lesotho, and Vietnam
Paul David Harpur
University of Queensland - T.C. Beirne School of Law
April 7, 2011
Employee Relations Law Journal, Vol. 36, No. 4, pp. 79-98, 2011
Over the last decade, the International Labor Organization (ILO) has managed a dynamic project in Cambodia which has resulted in drastically improved working conditions in Cambodian textile and apparel factories. The success of the Better Factories Cambodia project has led the ILO to expand the project beyond Cambodia to other jurisdictions. The new Better Work Project will develop micro-level projects in Jordan, Lesotho, and Vietnam to improve the respect for workers' rights in those jurisdictions. This article analyses what enabled the Better Factories Cambodia Project to be so successful and analyse the barriers in operationalizing the Better Work Projects in Jordan, Lesotho, and Vietnam.
During the 1990s, the production of retail goods increasingly moved from wealthy, developed countries to less-developed countries where production costs were cheaper. Reports began to emerge that the working conditions in some less-developed countries resembled sweatshops and the competitive advantage gained by the outsourcing of products often came at the expense of the human rights of workers. As globalization removed the barriers restricting trade across borders, corporations took advantage of the opportunities to outsource work to intermediary agents and factories across the globe. Substantial regulatory challenges have been created by the increase in these global supply chains, which often contain a large number of separate corporate entities situated in literally dozens of different nations. Both developed and developing countries proposed a range of regulatory interventions to improve labor rights while maintaining trade. Less-developed countries have struggled to find strategies to maintain their economic growth while protecting labor rights. Cambodia is one less-developed country that has worked with the International Labor Organization (ILO) successfully to increase the recognition of labor rights without economic harm.
The regulatory interventions in Cambodia, which resulted in increased labor rights without damaging trade, were made possible by the micro and macro involvement of the ILO in developing and implementing the Better Factories Cambodia Project. The effectiveness of the Better Factories Cambodia Project has resulted in the ILO expanding this project into the independent Better Work Projects in the countries of Jordan, Lesotho, and Vietnam.
This article argues that the Better Factories Cambodia Project model can be successfully transplanted to Jordan, Lesotho, and Vietnam only if the Better Work Projects carefully manages the challenges associated with the transplantation. This article analyses the barriers which the Better Work Projects will confront in transplanting the Better Factories Cambodia Project model and recommends how these challenges can be managed. To analyse the barriers associated with the transplantation of the Better Factories Cambodia Project model, this article uses a doctrinal comparative law approach. This approach is used to analyse the similarities and differences between the jurisdictions and the range of incentives available to the Better Work Projects to encourage participating countries and their factories to respect labor conditions.
Keywords: ILO, Cambodia Project, Textiles
Date posted: April 10, 2011
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