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School of Geography

Publications and Reports

A summary of the main research findings from the first stage of the project can be accessed here: Governing labour standards [PDF 2,245KB] and of the second stage focused on working conditions in global value chains here: Summary findings [PDF 503KB]

LSE Brexit blog: Harrison, J., Richardson, B., Campling, L., Smith, A. and Barbu, M. (2017) "Workers' rights are now a basic element of trade deals. What stance will Britain take?"

Social Europe blog: Smith, A., Campling, L., Barbu, M., Harrison, J. and Richardson, B. (2017) “Anchoring labour rights more effectively in EU trade agreements”

Working papers:

Working Paper 1:
Harrison, J., Barbu, M., Campling, L., Richardson, B. and Smith, A. (2016) “Governing labour standards through Free Trade Agreements: limits of the European Union’s Trade and Sustainable Development Chapters”

The European Union has established a new architecture of international labour standards governance within the Trade and Sustainable Development (TSD) Chapters of its recent Free Trade Agreements (FTAs). This article draws upon extensive qualitative research involving three recent EU trade agreements (the Korea-EU FTA, CARIFORUM-EU Economic Partnership Agreement, and Moldova-EU Association Agreement) to assess the effectiveness of this approach. We highlight some of the key limitations to effective governance, including lack of prioritisation of TSD Chapters among key actors; shortcomings in the implementation of key provisions; the limits of a ‘common formulation’ approach to labour standards governance; and a lack of shared understanding of the underlying purpose of labour standards provisions. We suggest that these failings collectively represent fundamental structural problems with the current EU approach, and this should prompt deep reflection about the purpose and form of labour standards provisions within EU FTAs in the future.
Copy available from Adrian Smith 

Working Paper 2:
Barbu, M., Campling, L., Smith, A., Harrison, J. and Richardson, B. (2016) “Global value chains and labour standards in the European Union’s Free Trade Agreements: the missing link between international trade regulation and global production?”

This paper investigates the extent to which the labour standards provisions in the European Union’s (EU) recent free trade agreements are capable of having an effect on working conditions in global value chains.  The paper argues it is vital to develop an understanding of how legal and institutional mechanisms established by these agreements intersect with global value chain (GVC) governance dynamics in contrasting political economies. An analytical framework is developed for assessing the implementation of labour standards in FTAs that draws upon GVC approaches. The paper then applies this framework to explore how governance arrangements and power relations between lead firms and local producers play out in two contrasting value chains and national contexts. This analysis demonstrates how labour standards provisions in EU trade agreements are faced with a range of differentiated environments, and that there are serious difficulties in creating meaningful change in global value chains given the limitations of the EU’s current model of labour standards provisions. The paper finishes with some ideas for how EU FTAs might better support efforts to enhance labour standards in global value chains in the future.  

Copy available from Adrian Smith 

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