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Power and Accountability in Global Supply Chain Governance

Workshop | 22-23 November | London

Background & Aims

The Challenge

Recent disasters (e.g. the Rana Plaza and Ali Enterprises factory fires in Bangladesh and Pakistan) and growing concerns over the environmental challenges (e.g. pollution and environmental damage in Zambia) posed by corporate activities have led to the multiplication of calls and efforts to regulate corporate human and environmental rights violations. Current regulatory approaches have mainly taken the form of ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ regulations that emphasise the importance of transparency, human rights due diligence and corporate criminal law for the governance of global supply chains. They increasingly also involve transnational lawsuits that seek to hold parent companies liable for human rights violations committed by their subsidiaries overseas, and an emerging global movement for a binding treaty on business and human rights. These accountability approaches have generated some positive gains, enhanced our understanding of intra-firm and supply chain dynamics, and underscored the crucial role that the state can play in regulating corporate responsibility. Despite these advances, however, there remain persistent challenges and questions about the transformational potential and sustainability of these strategies.

In recent years, critiques of the emergent debates on supply chain liability - and corporate accountability more broadly - have developed around their inordinate focus on home-state regulation and multinational corporations (MNCs) on the one hand, and their treatment of domestic actors on the other. Some argue that by emphasising the role of Western interventions, they contribute to raising the status of Western actors and institutions to that of ‘surrogate account holders’ and ‘putative “enforcers”’ of rights, while overlooking the role and agency of domestic actors and silencing alternative perspectives and ideas emanating from the global South.

Minding the Gaps, Shifting Narratives

The aim of this conference series is twofold:

  • To develop a more sophisticated understanding of the risks posed by global supply chains across different sectors and regions of the world, so as to contribute to a better-informed debate about the nature, scope and scale of the problem that we seek to address.
  • To undertake a comprehensive review and assessment of recent regulatory developments and initiatives, and propose ways to address recurrent governance deficits.

In our view, there is a pressing need to scrutinise and, where necessary, challenge predominant narratives and assumptions on the role that key actors, norms and processes play in creating and structuring ‘supply chain capitalism’; as well as those that inform the forms, locations and our understandings of the role and purposes of existing and proposed regulatory regimes. We also believe that it is crucial to pay attention both to the domestic and global political-economic contexts within which these regimes develop and operate and to the impacts they have on different stakeholders in the global North and global South. Doing so will require learning from and connecting different disciplines (e.g. law, organisation and management, political sciences, anthropology, geography, sociology), social movement networks and campaigns (such as labour and human rights movements and the campaigns for tax and natural resource justice). Importantly, it will necessitate that we take seriously concerns, among some stakeholders, about the lack of diversity of perspectives in the ‘business and human rights’ debates and that we include alternative voices that have so far been ignored in our discussions, particularly those from the global South.

In sum, we argue for an objective, yet critical, analysis of what is and what needs to be in the regulatory governance of global supply chains and for greater attention to be paid to who speaks on these matters. To achieve this challenging endeavour, we are reaching out to various academics, activists, practising lawyers and other practitioners from different regions of the world, who would be willing and able to share insights from innovative legal cases, research, advocacy and policy projects.

For more information please follow the link below.