Forced Labour at the Intersection of Trade and Immigration

In response to pressure from global brands for ever-cheaper labor, some governments in the Global South have begun bringing in migrants to replace citizens as export factory workers. This talk will highlight the risks of forced labor that arise separately in product supply chains and human supply chains, as well as their augmentation at these points where the two intersect. It will then examine possible routes to a solution, focusing on the failures and potential of the global trade regime. Trade theory has long emphasized low-cost labor as a natural feature of developing economies and therefore a legitimate source of advantage in competition for trade. This has blinded us to ways that pressure from lead firms has led governments of less-developed countries to construct an artificial comparative advantage in labor, including by offering migrants as a less costly and more controllable workforce in export industries. Traditional trade sanctions are a troubling response to forced labor here, because—in the rare cases sanctions are applied in response to labor violations—they punish governments in the Global South rather than the Global North firms that drive this phenomenon. In response, the talk will suggest ways that the trade regime, among other regulatory frameworks, might incorporate measures directly targeting the lead firms whose practices result in forced labor in supply chains.

Speaker: Jennifer Gordon
Discussant: Maayan Niezna
Be the first to comment