White Hats or Don Quixotes?

Kimberly Ann Elliott and Richard B. Freeman

in Emerging Labor Market Institutions for the Twenty-First Century

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print February 2005 | ISBN: 9780226261577
Published online February 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226261812 | DOI:
White Hats or Don Quixotes?

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Labor standards in less developed countries became a hot-button issue in discussions of trade and economic development in the 1990s. Standards rose to the top of the public agenda because nongovernmental groups in advanced countries—the human rights vigilantes—galvanized consumers to demand that multinational firms and their suppliers improve working conditions and pay living wages in developing countries. This chapter analyzes consumer demand, stimulated by vigilante intermediaries, for corporations to improve working conditions in supplier factories. It examines the incentives that exist for firms to respond to this demand, assesses the role of human rights activists as intermediaries who expose abuses in sweatshops and trigger consumers to demand changes in corporate behavior, looks at the major anti-sweatshop campaigns of the 1990s and their achievements, and evaluates the limitations of activist consumer-based campaigns. The chapter concludes by analyzing when and how human rights vigilante efforts actually do good.

Keywords: labor standards; sweatshops; human rights vigilantes; human rights activists; consumers; anti-sweatshop campaigns; working conditions; living wages; developing countries; supplier factories

Chapter.  20584 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Public Economics

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