Get back to work, or we'll hire permanent replacements to take your jobs! That's what management at Robert Bosch, a German multinational firm with 270,000 employees worldwide, told union members who exercised their right to strike in December 2005.
Corporate codes of conduct offer a "third way" to promote labor rights in the global economy--a civil-society alternative to first-way government regulation or second-way trade-union organizing and collective bargaining. Supporters argue that such codes can harness the market power of informed consumers to halt abuses against workers in developing countries, given that national laws vary and governments cannot possibly inspect every workplace and prevent every abuse.
At the latest Geneva meetings of the World Trade Organization and the International Labor Organization, the Clinton administration and the U.S. labor movement championed greater international scrutiny of forced labor, child labor, and other violations of fundamental workers' rights. This is only the beginning of real linkage between reciprocal open trade and the most minimal of social standards, but it is a start. Can the labor movement and the administration build on it and move toward a general trade policy that truly advances workers' rights in global trade?