Do Labour Standards Improve Employment Relationships in Global Production Networks? A Cross-sector Study in Brazil


  • Jean-Christophe Graz University of Lausanne
  • Patrícia Rocha Lemos CESIT/Unicamp
  • Andréia Galvão Instituto de Filosofia e Ciências Humanas (IFCH) - Universidade Estadual de Campinas-UNICAMP



Research on private regulation of labour standards in global production networks often highlights their continuing failure despite the fact that lead firms no longer consider them as mere window dressing. Fewer analyses delve into their on-the-ground effectiveness to benefit workers. This article joins a context-specific approach with quantitative analysis to examine whether labour standards used in private regulation improve employment relationships in suppliers of global production networks. Based on a single-country case study of Brazil, we look at the extent of their adoption by suppliers across sectors, their complementarity with national labour institutions, and whether the adoption of labour standards at supplier site level is likely to support labour agency. Our findings show little effectiveness of labour standards against those dimensions. The presence of labour standards at supplier level alone has no significant impact and varies greatly across sectors. It is only if workers are aware of the presence of such standards that it might support their agency when union membership is taken as proxy. Yet, the correlation could also be the other way round: awareness of labour standards depend on being a member of a union in the first place. 

KEYWORDS: private regulation; certification; labour standards; corporate social responsibility (CSR); global production networks

Author Biographies

Patrícia Rocha Lemos, CESIT/Unicamp

Patrícia Rocha Lemos has a PhD in Social Science. She is a researcher at the Brazilian Centre of Studies in Trade Unionism and Labour Economics of the State University of Campinas, Brazil. Her main areas of interest are labour regimes in global production networks and labour movements.

Andréia Galvão, Instituto de Filosofia e Ciências Humanas (IFCH) - Universidade Estadual de Campinas-UNICAMP

Andréia Galvão, PhD, is professor of political science at the State University of Campinas, Brazil. She is the author of Neoliberalismo e reforma trabalhista no Brasil (2007) and co-author of Política e classes sociais no Brasil dos anos 2000 (2012) and As bases sociais das novas centrais sindicais brasileiras (2015). She works on labour relations, trade unionism, social movements and collective action in Brazil, and has published several articles on these topics. She is member of the editorial committee of the journal Crítica Marxista and of the national coordination of REMIR (a Brazilian Network for Interdisciplinary Studies and Monitoring of Labour Reform).