Benchmarking global supply chains: the power of the ‘ethical audit’ regime

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LeBaron, G.; Lister, J.;
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press

This article critically investigates the growing power and effectiveness of the ‘ethical’ compliance audit regime. Over the last decade, audits have evolved from a tool for companies to track internal organisational performance into a transnational governing mechanism t... View more
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    9 Stephen Gill (ed.), Global Crises and the Crisis of Global Leadership (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012), p. 1.

    10 Secondary data collection for this article involved a desk-based review of the audit industry, with a focus on audit programmes, protocols and retail companies' codes of conduct for suppliers. Primary data collection involved semi-structured elite interviews. A total of 23 in-person interviews and 2 telephone interviews were conducted in China, North America, and the United Kingdom with retail buyers, auditors, consumer goods suppliers, factory managers, NGO representatives, trade unionists, and CSR managers and experts. A site visit to Guangdong province, China, took place in April 2012 and interviews and factory visits were conducted at and around the China Import and Export Fair ('The Canton Fair'). The UK interviews were conducted in March 2013, in and around London. The North American interviews were conducted in Vancouver (Canada) and Seattle (US) between May 2012 and July 2013. The interview and factory visit data presented here is intended to be illustrative, rather than comprehensive.

    11 We are indebted to Michael Barnett and Raymond Duvall's conception of productive power as 'the constitution of all social subjects with various social powers through systems of knowledge and discursive practices of broad and general social scope'. See Michael Barnett and Raymond Duvall, 'Power in international politics', International Organization, 59 (Winter 2005), pp. 55-7. We are indebted to neoGramscian global political economy scholarship for our conception of the structural power of business and audits. See, for example, Stephen Gill (ed.), Power and Resistance in the New World Order (New York: Palgrave, 2003); Stephen Gill (ed.), Gramsci, Historical Materialism, and International Relations (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993).

    12 David Osborne and Ted Gaebler, Reinventing Government: How the Entrepreneurial Spirit is Transforming the Public Sector (New York: Plume, 1993); Power, The Audit Society.

    13 cf. Julia Black, 'Decentering regulation: Understanding the role of regulation and self regulation in a “post regulatory” world', Current Legal Problems, 54 (2001), pp. 103-46; See, for example, Tim Büthe and Walter Mattli, The New Global Rulers: The Privatization of Regulation in the World Economy (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2011); Claire Cutler, 'Private transnational governance and the crisis of global leadership', in Stephen Gill (ed.), Global Crises and the Crisis of Global Leadership (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012), pp. 56-70.

    14 For an overview of neoliberal globalisation's discursive and material characteristics, see Jamie Peck, Constructions of Neoliberal Reason (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012).

    15 Stephen Gill, 'Globalisation, market civilisation, and disciplinary neoliberalism', Millennium Journal of International Studies, 24:3 (1995), pp. 413. See also Claire Cutler, Virginia Haufler, and Tony Porter, Private Authority and International Affairs (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1999). See also James Harrison and Sharifah Sekalala, 'Benchmarking human rights at the United Nations: Selfreporting by states and corporations', Review of International Studies, 41:5 (2015), pp. 925-45.

    16 Cutler, Haufler, and Porter, Private Authority and International Affairs, pp. 3-4.

    18 Renato Bignami, Giuseppe Casale, and Mario Fasani, Labour Inspection and Employment Relationship (Geneva: International Labour Organization, 2013).

    19 For an overview, see Peter Newell, Globalization and the Environment: Capitalism, Ecology, and Power (Cambridge, UK: Polity, 2012).

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