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Pennsylvania State University

Decent Work in Global Supply Chains

Pennsylvania State University via iversity


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.

The course started with a Facebook live discussion with Prof. Dr. Mark Anner on 12 January 2017. You can see the recording here

This is a free self-paced course in which you can study at your own pace. You can enrol for free in the audit track and - if you wish - get a Statement of Participation for 29 € once you've finished the course. Once per year, we will offer the option to get a Certificate for 49 € after passing an online exam. The Global Labour University may offer scholarships to participants from non-OECD countries to do a Certificate for free. If you wish to get a Certificate for this course, please start studying in the audit track and you will be informed about the next exam period and the scholarship option.

If you work for a university, trade union or any other labour-related institution you are welcome to integrate the course material into your education and training programmes. All video lectures and interviews, readings, online resources, and exercises can be downloaded separately and used for free.


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.

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.

Study time if you have decided to participate in the exam

Taught by

Mark Anner, Esther Busser and Michael Fichter


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