ILR School

Faculty Publications - International and Comparative Labor

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    The Spectacle of Automation and Status Aspirations: Adoption of Automated Metro Systems Around the World, 2000-2020
    Kang, Youbin; Kim, Jungmyung (Oxford University Press, 2024-03)
    Automation’s extensive impact on the labor market and economy is well recognized, but the underlying motivations for its adoption remain understudied. To address this gap, we analyze an original dataset covering 1276 cities across 148 countries, using event history analysis to examine the adoption of automated metro systems. Our research suggests that city governments are driven by status competition in their decisions to automate subway systems. We find that high-status cities are more likely to adopt automation. However, this trend diminishes when cities are preparing to host a mega-event such as the Olympics, indicating that lower-status cities use these events as opportunities to adopt automation technologies. Our finding reveals that status-driven aspirations, manifesting in the spectacle of automation, are a significant motivator for adopting automated technologies, prompting further investigation into the socio-economic factors influencing automation and the symbolic importance of technological advancement across various economic sectors.
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    Freedom of Association and Collective Bargaining in Minority Trade Unions
    Kang, Youbin (Brill, 2019-08)
    [Excerpt] In 2010, the Republic of Korea passed an amendment to its Trade Union and Labour Relations Adjustment Act (TULRAA). The amendment, enacted in 2011, introduced a single collective bargaining channel in workplaces consisting of multiple trade union partners. The case at hand was brought to the ILO Committee of Freedom of Association (the Committee) by the International Union of Food Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers Association (IUF), which alleges that the implementation of the revised act in 2011 resulted in various discriminatory actions by the employer, Sejong Hotel, against a minority union, the Sejong Hotel Labor Union (SHLU). The Committee did not determine that the right to freedom of association and collective bargaining was violated but recommends that the government look toward preventive measures against adverse effects of the revised TULRAA.
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    The Rise, Demise and Replacement of the Bangladesh Experiment in Transnational Labour Regulation
    Kang, Youbin (International Labour Organization, 2021-09)
    Five years after the collapse of the Rana Plaza building in 2013 – a disaster that killed 1,133 garment workers – the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, a multi-stakeholder programme designed to set labour standards for the garment industry, was terminated by Bangladesh’s highest court. Widely hailed as a promising example of transnational regulation, the Accord was never successfully institutionalized locally. On the basis of archival and ethnographic work in Bangladesh, the author suggests that, although the Accord successfully upgraded factory safety standards, its failure to build widespread support among local employers, workers and the Government led to its termination and replacement.
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    Learning From Crisis: Apparel Industry Experts on Mitigating the COVID-19 Pandemic and Future Crises
    Fischer-Daly, Matthew M.; Judd, Jason; Kuruvilla, Sarosh (Cornell University, ILR School, Global Labor Institute, 2022-11)

    The emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020 triggered disruptions across the apparel industry’s global supply chains. Operations halted in countries supplying material inputs, and retail demand plummeted. Apparel orders—some of them completed and already en route to brands and retailers—were cancelled. The fallout from these events included closures of thousands of retail stores and apparel factories, resulting in layoffs and furloughs affecting millions of workers. Labor force survey data in 2020 confirmed that apparel and footwear production in Asia was among the manufacturing sectors most harshly impacted by working hour and employment losses (ILO, 2021). The shocks tested the capacity of policymakers and regulation, both public and private, to support livelihoods and then recovery in the industry.

    These effects of the pandemic on apparel and footwear workers have attracted significant attention. The focus of much of this research has been to examine the immediate effect of the pandemic on suppliers and workers. Emblematic of this stream of research is Mark Anner’s survey of Bangladeshi suppliers (Anner, 2022) which highlights how the extreme power asymmetries between global buyers and their manufacturers caused some of the factories to shutter and workers to go without pay in countries with limited social protection systems. A 2020 ILO/Cornell Research brief (ILO, 2020c) painted a similar picture across most Asian garment-producing countries. A follow-up paper (Judd & Jackson, 2021) tracked longer-term changes in the global apparel industry with a view to assessing future trajectories. The authors articulate different scenarios: a ‘Repeat’ scenario in which long-evident patterns of industry governance, structure, and sourcing continue; a ‘Regain’ scenario, involving shifts in structure and sourcing but not governance; and a ‘Renegotiate’ scenario, in which industry actors negotiate changes to all three aspects of the industry.

    This paper builds on these prior efforts. We ask two research questions here. First, what have industry actors learned during the pandemic for remediating its impacts and mitigating the effect of future crises on apparel suppliers and workers? And second, what policies and actions can advance sustainability and inclusivity in the global apparel sector? Answering these questions required obtaining the perspectives of apparel buyers, manufacturers, governments, unions and labor rights organizations in some of Asia’s leading apparel-producing countries. In order to do this the International Labor Organization (ILO) and the Global Labor Institute at Cornell University (formerly the New Conversations Project) convened focus group discussions organized by constituency in May 2022. Participants in the discussions were representatives of four governments, six apparel brands and retailers, six manufacturers and manufacturers associations, seven unions, and six labor rights organizations. These participants come from Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Indonesia, the Netherlands, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The countries represent substantial shares of world apparel exports and imports, and the thirty participants have decades of experience working in global apparel supply chains. (Annex 1 lists the questions to which participants responded).

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    Higher Ground? Executive Summary
    ILR Global Labor Institute (Cornell University, ILR School, Global Labor Institute, 2023-09-13)

    Fashion focuses its climate change efforts on goals such as increasing use of recycled fabrics, reducing water usage, and cutting down its very high greenhouse gas emissions—fashion ranks third on greenhouse gases behind global food production and construction.

    But fashion’s mitigation efforts largely ignore the effects of climate breakdown on the workers, communities and industries who produce the world’s garments. This is the problem of adaptation and it is not part of fashion’s plan.

    In these two “Higher Ground?” reports from the Global Labor Institute at Cornell University and Schroders, we measure the present and future risks of exposure to extreme heat and flooding in some of the world’s most climate-vulnerable countries for apparel workers, suppliers, fashion brands and investors.

    The aim of these two reports is, first, to understand the industry’s exposure to climate risks and the costs of climate adaptation for workers, manufacturers, buyers and investors, and governments. And, second, to inspire industry actors to formulate adaptation strategies that are large-scale and fit for purpose. We want to see these new measures and costs written into the business plans of the fashion industry, into collective agreements, and into budgets and objectives of regulators.

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    Corporate Codes of Conduct and Labour Turnover in Global Apparel Supply Chains
    Li, Chunyun; Kuruvilla, Sarosh (Wiley, 2023-07-23)
    Research on private regulation of labour issues in global supply chains has focused extensively on whether supplier factories comply with the codes of conduct of global companies. Less is known about how such compliance relates to the preferences and behaviours of workers at export factories. This study analyses a unique dataset of factory audits matched with a survey of worker turnover rates from 622 factories in 28 countries supplying a large global apparel retailer. The results show that violations of the retailer's codes of conduct for suppliers are generally related to turnover, but that workers 'vote with their feet' primarily for violations of wages and benefits, relative to violations of other code provisions such as environment protection and safety standards. This 'means-ends' decoupling between factory practices and worker preferences implies that global firms need to incorporate the livelihood logic that underlies workers' turnover decisions while implementing their private regulation programmes.
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    Choosing Rights: Nissan in Canton, Mississippi, and Workers’ Freedom of Association under International Human Rights Standards
    Johnson, Derrick; Compa, Lance (2013-10)
    [Excerpt] This Report chronicles Nissan’s aggressive anti-union tactics. These include mandatory “captive audience” meetings, individual sessions with supervisors, closed-circuit television presentations, surveillance, and interrogations. Nissan management has relentlessly and repeatedly implied to its workforce that the plant faces the risk of closing down if the workers decide to have a union. Instead of allowing workers to decide freely whether or not to participate in a union, the company chooses to create a climate of fear and uncertainty. Such fear-mongering is inconsistent with freedom of choice.
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    Book Review: L’organisation international du travail et le BIT
    Compa, Lance (University of Illinois College of Law, 2022)
    [Excerpt] The re-issuance of Georges Scelle’s seminal L’organisation international du travail et le BIT (The International Labor Organization and the International Labor Office) nearly a century after its initial publication provides a new and timely look at early work on the challenge of creating global labor standards.
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    Teachers’ Work in China’s Migrant Schools
    Friedman, Eli (SAGE, 2017-11)
    In recent years, scholars have begun to document the emergence of private migrant schools in urban China. However, neither education nor labor scholars have empirically investigated teachers’ work. Because it is precisely those with the fewest economic resources that have been restricted to privatized education in the city, migrant schools are dependent on a highly exploitative form of employment. Based on a study of Guangzhou and Beijing, we see that there is diversity in working conditions. In Beijing, teachers are subject to extralegal precarity in which basic legal enforcement is tenuous to nonexistent. In Guangzhou, there is greater legal compliance, but management has employed market discipline to shift risk onto teachers. In general, teachers’ work in migrant schools is similar to other forms of migrant labor in China, characterized by low pay, long hours, high work intensity, and lack of job security. The article concludes by assessing the divergent politics of migration in each city while considering the implications for socioeconomic inequality.
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    Just-in-Time Urbanization? Managing Migration, Citizenship, and Schooling in the Chinese City
    Friedman, Eli (SAGE, 2018-05)
    In this article I argue that the Chinese state is responding to tensions wrought by high-speed growth by attempting to develop a form of technocratic biopolitics I refer to as ‘just-in-time (JIT) urbanization’. Mirroring techniques of the Toyota Production System (of which JIT is a constituent element), large Chinese cities have sought to avoid the costs associated with the production and warehousing of surplus populations. Under this system, migrants are granted access to local citizenship and public education for their children if they fulfill a specific, state-determined, need in the labor market. The hope is to be able to precisely deploy specific kinds of labor power as needed, at as low a cost as possible, while avoiding waste, overpopulation, and (presumed) attendant political chaos. The social consequence of this approach is that nominally public resources such as education have been funneled to elites in what I term an ‘inverted means test’.