Course: Decent Work in Global Supply Chains

Starts 12 January | Online

About this course

According to the UN organization UNCTAD, 80% of trade takes place in global supply chains linked to transnational corporations. Governed by powerful transnational corporations, these global supply chains set the ‘rules of the game’ of today’s global production system. For the majority of workers, this production system translates into poverty wages, excessive working hours, unsafe workplaces and repression of workers’ right to form and join democratic trade unions.
This course offers a careful mix of video lectures and interviews, readings, online resources, and exercises to gain both knowledge and practical skills for promoting decent work in global supply chains. In some countries, the online learning experience will be complemented with local workshops for a truly global learning experience.

What will I learn

This course discusses the particularities and strategies of transnational corporations as actors orchestrating global supply chains, as well as their impact on labour relations worldwide. It looks at regulatory frameworks for trade, investment and taxation, and explores whether global supply chains contribute to development. After presenting the major decent work gaps in today’s global supply chains, the course will look at the existing governance framework and its gaps. What are the governance gaps and what are strategies and tools for an alternative governance structure that promotes sustainable development and decent work in global supply chains?

What do I need to know?

The course requires a working level of English and draws on the fields of political science and law at the level of a Masters’ programme. However, theoretical concepts are explained in an accessible and well-illustrated way, so it is also possible to participate in the course using skills and knowledge acquired outside formal education.

Course Structure

Chapter 1: Introduction to global supply chains

This chapter introduces the evolution and drivers of global supply chains as today’s dominant production system. It discusses whether the “East-Asian miracle” countries can serve as an example for development through global supply chains and explores the architecture and strategies of transnational corporations. Participants will be invited to introduce themselves and share relevant material in an interactive world map.

Chapter 2: The regulatory framework on trade, investment and taxation

Chapter two provides an overview of the evolution and characteristics of the global trade system and the framework of investment and taxation. Who sets the rules? How does dispute settlement work in today’s trade regime? What are the implications of these rules for human and workers’ rights, social justice and the environment?

Chapter 3: Global supply chains and development

This chapter discusses the role of global wage hierarchies and investment policies as drivers of global supply chains and explores their impact on development. What can we learn from the example of the extractive industries in Africa, and from the impact of privatization on public services? In which way do global supply chains rely on forced and child labour. How does insertion into global supplies chains affect middle-income countries?

Chapter 4: Decent work gaps in global supply chains

Featuring the ITUC’s general secretary Sharan Burrow, this chapter explores the different levels of decent work gaps in global supply chains. It looks at the fragmentation of labour and the realities of informal economy workers at the bottom of many global supply chains. At the end of the chapter, the peer-review assignment invites you to apply your newly acquired knowledge to a practical case from your country. The assignment is due at the end of chapter 5 and will allow you to learn from each other.

Chapter 5: Key elements of the existing governance framework
How are global supply chains governed today? What are the main instruments of Corporate Social Responsibility, what do the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights say and how does the complaints mechanism under the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises work? Given the existence of these mechanisms, why do massive workers’ rights violations in global supply chains continue?

Chapter 6: Negotiated governance - strategies on the company and industry level

This chapter explores innovative strategies on the company and industry level to improve working conditions and voice and representation of workers, including Global Framework Agreements, the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety and IndustriALL’s ACT Initiative. What can we learn from them and how can they be extended?

Chapter 7: Regulating global supply chains - strategies on the political and legal level
What are the most promising political and legal strategies to realize decent work in global supply chains? This chapter combines the voices of international experts from the policy and legal fields and looks at the most common arguments of employers against the regulation of global supply chains. It closes with an overview of the way forward.

Chapter 8: Campaigning to win – strategies and tools Even the best knowledge is useless without the right tools to push for change. Drawing on successful campaigns, this chapter explains the key methods and tools of strategic corporate research and campaigning as well as hands-on skills on how to use technology and communication to promote decent work in global supply chains.

Final exam: Multiple-choice-test

Students choosing the certificate track will have one week study time before taking a multiple choice test on the course content. If you complete the certificate track, you can apply for a GLU scholarship to participate in the 12th Global Labour University Conference from 4 to 6 October 2017 in Jawahrhal Nehru University, India. We will organize a lottery of the applicants to select to MOOC certificate students for a GLU scholarship to participate in the conference (covering travel and accommodation at the Conference).

Course team

Prof. Dr. Mark Anner (Associate Professor of Labor and Employment Relations, and Political Science, Penn State University, USA)
Esther Busser (Deputy Director, Geneva Office of the International Trade Union Confederation)
Dr. Michael Fichter (Senior Lecturer, Global Labour University, Germany)

Tandiwe Gross (Associate Expert, Bureau for Workers’ Activities, ILO)
Jenny Holdcroft (Assistant General Secretary, IndustriALL Global Union)
Prof. Dr. Praveen Jha (Professor for Economics, Jawaharlal Nehru University, India)
Maité Llanos (Project coordinator, Global Labour University)
Adam Lee ( Organizing and Campaign Director, IndustriALL Global Union)
Victor Hugo Ricco (Senior Specialist, Bureau for Workers’ Activities, ILO)

Prof. Dr. Christoph Scherrer (Professor for Globalization and Politics, Social Science Department of the University of Kassel, Germany)


International experts

Guy Ryder (Director-General, ILO)
Sharan Burrow (Secretary-General, ITUC)
Philip Jennings (Secretary-General, UNI Global Union)
Maria Helena André (Director, Bureau for Workers’ Activities, ILO)
Beate Andrees (Chief, Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work Branch, ILO)
Reden Alcantara (Advisor, IndustriALL Global Union)
Dr. Carolina Baltar (Lecturer, University of Campinas)
Jane Barrett (Director, Organization and Representation Department, WIEGO)
Eddie Cottle (Project Leader, Labour Research Service, South Africa)
Kirstine Drew (Senior policy advisor to the Trade Union Advisory Council to the OECD)
Prof. Jayati Ghosh (Professor of Economics at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, India)
Fernando Lopes (Director of Metal Base)
Hilma Mote (Executive Director at Africa Labour Research and Education Institute-ITUC-Africa, Togo)
James Musonda (Ph.D. candidate at Liege University, Belgium)
Sandra van Niekerk (Researcher at Public Services International’s research unit, South Africa)
Peter Rossman (Director of international campaigns and communications at the International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers' Associations)
Dr. Santosh Verma (Post-doctoral fellow, International Centre for Development and Decent Work, University of Kassel, Germany)
Jeffrey Vogt (Legal Director at the International Trade Union Confederation, ITUC)
Prof. Dr. Reingard Zimmer (Professor for Labour Law at Berlin School of Economics and Law, Germany)