IEE Newsletter

UA Ruhr GC: MERCUR Project on “Political Authority in Transnational Governance Arrangements” in the Home Stretch

Johannes Norpoth shares the latest activities of the interdisciplinary research project that focuses on the regulation of labour standards in the apparel industry.

The previous edition of the IEE newsletter introduced experiences and insights of members of the MERCUR research team, gathered during the second research visit to Dhaka, Bangladesh.

Research on the Bangladesh Accord

The talks held with garment manufacturers, representatives of Bangladeshi governmental agencies, foreign embassies and transnational private initiatives, trade unionists, and civil society organizations focused on regulatory developments with regard to the safety of garment factories and freedom of association in the aftermath of the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory in 2013. In this context, the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh (Accord) as a novel form of transnational regulation of labour standards in the apparel industry is one instrument that the research project devotes particular attention to. The Accord is a legally binding contract between fashion brands and retailers sourcing from Bangladesh and trade unions. According to this instrument, brands and retailers require their suppliers in Bangladesh to subject their factories to private inspections of fire and building safety and subsequently implement indicated remediation measures. One central question about the Accord is in how far the legally binding character of the instrument mattered in practice. After the insightful trip to Bangladesh, further interviews have been conducted by the members of the research team. In order to complement the views and perceptions of stakeholders in Bangladesh on the Accord and its operation, we conducted a series of interviews with representatives of fashion brands and retailers and global union federations who signed the Accord. Preliminary results of the interdisciplinary research on the Accord will be presented in August at a conference in Bergen, Norway.

Next to the study on the Bangladesh Accord, a second study aims to reconstruct the construction, conveyance and reception of labour norms in Post-Rana Plaza instruments. Preliminary results of this second study were presented recently at the 2017 Business and Human Rights Young Researchers Forum in St. Gallen, Switzerland, organized jointly by the University of St. Gallen and NYU’s Stern Center for Business and Human Rights.

Research activities in Cambodia

Next to Bangladesh, the MERCUR project is also looking into transnational aspects of governance arrangements on labour standards in Cambodia. In the Cambodian context, the research project is specifically interested in discerning transnational influences on the operation of the Cambodian Arbitration Council - a local quasi-judicial body that serves to resolve collective labour disputes. The body that has been established in cooperation with the International Labour Organization (ILO) based on Cambodian law is significant for the high number of cases it receives and resolves annually. In February, Christian Scheper from the Institute for Development and Peace (INEF) at the University of Duisburg-Essen; and Nina Geerkens, Research Fellow at the Chair of IEE Director Markus Kaltenborn at the Faculty of Law, Bochum, visited Phnom Penh, Cambodia, to follow up on an earlier field visit in December 2015 with interviews with stakeholders involved in the Arbitration Council. These interviews focus on the relevance of transnational actors for the functioning of the Arbitration Council, in particular the implementation of its awards.

Field Research Cambodia web

The picture above shows Christian Scheper and Nina Geerkens together with interview partners from a union federation in Phnom Penh, Cambodia (picture: Geerkens).

Research activities in Europe

In the context of regulation of labour standards, the ILO undeniably holds a central position – be it through normative guidance through its conventions and recommendations, its technical assistance missions and specific country programmes or discussions on the adoption of future labour standards. In December 2016, principal investigator Dr. Cornelia Ulbert from the Institute for Development and Peace (INEF) at the University of Duisburg-Essen; and Nina Geerkens, Research Fellow at the Chair of IEE Director Markus Kaltenborn at the Faculty of Law, Bochum, visited the ILO headquarter in Geneva to talk with ILO experts on the ILO’s work on labour standards in the context of global supply chains generally and global apparel supply chains specifically.

Thanks to an extension of funding until September 2017, some final additional interviews can be conducted. The additional time will also be used to finalise research proposals within a larger group of researchers from different disciplines, including law, political science and sociology. A number of workshops conducted over the period of the last two years established an exchange that has already yielded fruits by leading to common interdisciplinary research proposals as well as publication projects.

NorpothJohannes Norpoth
Research Fellow
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Phone: +49 (0)234 / 32-19025
Fax: +49 (0)234 / 32-14294

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