Panel 13: Room for Improvement? Addressing the (Un)Fairness of Labour and Small Producers in Global Capitalism
Capitalism has spread around the world linking geographically diverse locations of production and consumption into globally spanning networks. Largely due to the reduction of transport costs, improved communication and the dissemination of technologies, many of the sites of production are found in the Global South – from China to Indonesia, India, Bangladesh, Sierra Leone and Brazil. There, the inhabitants often labor on the land or in factories to produce the food, gadgets and clothes for the needs of the global consumer, both in the Global North and Global South.
This panel takes a close look at the labor and production conditions within historical and contemporary global production networks. The aim is to better understand whether there is room to improve the conditions of the weakest actors involved, such as (child) factory laborers and small farmers. Labor uprisings against oppressing conditions (in the South) as well as the support of civil society (especially in the Global North) are illustrative of the pressures (global) capital has been facing. Hence, this panel asks: Are efforts such as fair-trade, responsible investment and international labor law slivers of real change aimed at readdressing the unequal distribution of gains? Or are local political formations more effective in addressing new forms of inequality resulting from global production networks? What do we know about struggles for fairer labor conditions in the past? What are the underlying notions of fairness and justice that drive labor struggles along global production networks? Who, for example, were the actors who struggled against child labor and what strategies did they have? Is there a tendency that capitalism is becoming fairer or is such a conception a contradictio in terminis? If so, what are the horizons of hope for the laboring classes and small producers in the Global South? Is it possible to develop successful policies to improve the social and political conditions of the weakest actors involved in global production chains?
Kristoffel Lieten (University of Amsterdam)