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date: 08 March 2021

Labor in the Global Systemlocked

  • Anke Hassel, Anke HasselHertie School of Governance in Berlin
  • Henni HensenHenni HensenInstitute of Political Science, Goethe University Frankfurt am Main
  •  and Anne SanderAnne SanderHertie School of Governance in Berlin


In the course of globalization, the locus of labor regulation has increasingly shifted toward the supranational level. However, the debate on global labor standards continues to be riddled by the question of the relationship between economic globalization and labor standards. This debate can be outlined along two main arguments: the liberal perspective, which sees a positive impact of globalization on working conditions worldwide, is opposed by those who claim a negative impact leading to a race to the bottom—a hypothesis based on the assumption that the liberalization of the international economic order intensifies competition, sharpens the fight for competitive advantages, and subsequently contributes to a downward spiral in wages and labor standards. In sum, the argument is that the effect of increased global competition leads to a growing worldwide inequality between high-skilled and low-skilled workers. One of the most significant new features of the internationalizing economy is labor migration. Low-qualified workers often migrate into hazardous conditions as they are not adequately integrated and protected in their host countries. Meanwhile, there are two major contested issues in the global labor governance debate: the debate around soft versus hard law and the relationship between labor rights and human rights. With the growing academic debate on international labor, a growing body of regulatory organizations and instruments has developed. Global labor is structured along three main lines: international (governmental) organizations and international standard setting; transnational labor movements and tripartite mechanisms; and private regulatory instruments such as Codes of Conduct (CoC) and multistakeholder initiatives.

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