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Export incentives, domestic mobilization, & labor reforms

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Original languageEnglish
Accepted/In press1 Jan 2020

King's Authors


There is a complementary relationship between export incentives and domestic mobilization in improving workers’ rights in global supply chains. Governments will repress labor in order to boost export competitiveness; resistance is then sporadic, ineffective, and dangerous. If governments anticipate economic rewards, they may reduce labor repression; but domestic activists must simultaneously mobilize for substantive reforms. I demonstrate this by exploiting within-case variation in Bangladesh and Vietnam, showing what happened before the introduction of export incentives; in their presence; and after they subsided. Vietnam liberalized labor laws in order to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership; and Bangladesh did likewise in order to salvage its reputation after Rana Plaza. Activists became less fearful once Bangladeshi politicians had announced reforms. They registered unions, demonstrated en masse, and secured a 77% increase in the minimum wage. In Vietnam, party reformists were crucial in persuading their conservative colleagues that TPP would help strengthen the regime’s hold on power, while pushing for genuinely independent unions. This paper explicates the synergies between export incentives and domestic mobilization by connecting protagonists’ motivations to macro-level reforms, via process-tracing and in-depth qualitative research.

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