Jeroen Merk

Jeroen Merk

PhD

About

29
Publications
26,061
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472
Citations
Introduction
My research interests lie at the crossroads of international relations, political economy, social movements, and the governance institutions of global industrial relations. I have been particularly concerned with analysing the shifting nature of worker-employer relations within local, national and global (supply-chain) contexts and the combined (but uneven) emergence of cross-border networks of NGOs and trade unions keeping transnational corporations accountable for labour rights violations.
Additional affiliations
March 2018 - February 2021
The University of Edinburgh
Position
  • PostDoc Position
September 2017 - March 2018
Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam
Position
  • Lecturer
January 2015 - July 2018
University of Amsterdam
Position
  • Lecturer
Education
October 2001 - June 2007
University of Sussex
Field of study
  • International Relations

Publications

Publications (29)
Article
Full-text available
Codes of conduct are the main tools to privately regulate worker rights in global value chains. Scholars have shown that while codes may improve outcome standards (such as occupational health and safety), they have had limited impact on process rights (such as freedom of association and collective bargaining). Scholars have, though, only provided v...
Article
Full-text available
ABSTRACT Global outsourcing arrangements in the garment industry, and elsewhere, provide one type of company—brands or retailers—with the possibility of distancing themselves from the organisational questions related to (mass) labour processes. By externalising the labour-intensive aspects of production, global sourcing companies no longer have to...
Article
Full-text available
Transnational outsourcing makes it possible for Western companies to access the enormous labour reserves in countries such as China, India or Bangladesh without entering into formal (contractual) relations with these workers. It provides global buyers with an opportunity to disassociate themselves from (labour-intensive) production activities, and...
Article
Full-text available
This paper looks at the processes that constrain worker organ-ising at Indonesia's largest manufacturer, PT Nikomas-Gemilang, where 68,000 workers produce athletic footwear for brands such as Nike, Adidas, and Puma. The paper critically applies the power resource approach to understand labour relations and (barriers to) transnational worker contest...
Chapter
Full-text available
Production processes have long been transnationalised in the electronics industry. Outsourcing has ‘freed’ brands like Apple or Dell from organizing their own production processes, thus helping to reduce costs and ultimately relieving them of the organizational requirements associated with mass labour processes. Contract manufacturers, in turn, spe...
Conference Paper
The mobile phone industry is known for a range of concerns related to the sourcing of (conflict) minerals and working conditions in contractor factories. One key challenge for advocacy networks is to developed strategies that target the lead firms that exert a significant influence over workplace conditions, given their controlling position in glob...
Chapter
This contribution discusses the opportunities and limits for social movements providing alternative means for workers’ participation along global supply chains.
Article
This paper investigates the role of voluntary initiatives (VIs) as non-governmental systems of labour regulation in global value chains (GVCs). We ask under which conditions VIs with a more active role for labour emerge. In order to answer this question, we apply Wright’s (2000) theory of the factors enabling positive class compromise to a VI imple...
Article
Résumé Les initiatives privées participent à la gouvernance du travail au sein des chaînes de valeur mondiales, mais les travailleurs n'y jouent souvent qu'un rôle accessoire. Face à ce constat, les auteurs reprennent les thèses de Wright (2000) sur les conditions d'un «compromis de classe positif» et les appliquent à l'analyse du protocole sur la...
Article
Resumen Los autores investigan las posibilidades de «mejora social impulsada por los trabajadores» a través de iniciativas de RSE en cadenas mundiales de valor (CMV). Aplican la teoría de Wright sobre el pacto de clase positivo al análisis del Protocolo de Libertad Sindical concluido en el sector de prendas deportivas de Indonesia, ampliándola para...
Conference Paper
Full-text available
Subcontracted labour has long been paradigmatic in the garment industry, resulting in serious consequences for labour in terms of wages and conditions, security of employment, and power relations. Transnational outsourcing and offshoring have in the long term not only undermined traditional forms of trade union organising and collective bargaining...
Research
Full-text available
The organization of production in global value chains (GVCs) has been accompanied by a rise of informal and insecure work. Yet, the role of labour agency has received scant attention in the GVC and related literatures. Selwyn (2013) therefore demands to shift attention towards engagement with labour movements to identify what he terms ‘labour-led’...
Article
Full-text available
The garment industry can be considered an archetypal global sector in which production processes have been transnationalized since the late 1960s. The possibility of fragmenting and outsourcing production across a spatially dispersed network of manufacturers has “freed” lead companies from surveillance of their production processes, helped reduce c...
Article
Full-text available
Within the global garment industry the term "urgent appeal" is used to describe a request for action to Western activist groups for support in a specific case of labor rights violations. The urgent appeal system has become an important strategy for the transnational antisweatshop movement. It is distinct from the movement's other strategies because...
Article
Full-text available
Transnational outsourcing makes it possible for Western companies to access the enormous labour reserves in countries such as China, India or Bangladesh without entering into formal (contractual) relations with these workers. It provides global buyers with an opportunity to disassociate themselves from (labour-intensive) production activities, and...
Article
Report on the Asia Floor Wage Proposal, a response to the problem of company relocation to avoid paying higher wages in one country. Discusses the causes of poverty wages in the garment industry, including the role large retailers play in shaping global production and trade. Argues that the initiative will have beneficial effects on the wages and b...
Technical Report
Full-text available
Social audits to check working conditions in production facilities emerged in the mid-1990s after a number of high profile companies were widely scrutinized for substandard working conditions in their supply chains. At that time, a growing number of companies—for example Nike, Gap, Levi Strauss, and C&A—had adopted codes of conduct that in essence...

Questions

Questions (13)
Question
While ‘success stories’ may contain important lessons for the study of social movements and may narrate how worker-driven campaigns shape transnational private governance regimes or may tell us how multi-sited linkages between grassroots worker organisations and their overseas allies are established; it may be just as important – from both an analytical and emancipatory perspective – to ask why a group of workers was unable to organise and further investigate whether this docility (or consent) is somehow employer ‘manufactured’. How does one proceed studying something that did not take place, especially in the context of freedom of association. Tips, suggestions and examples are appreciated.
Question
I'm trying to find out how many female union leaders there are at sectoral level in the garment industry. There are, at least, two in Indonesia. But how many, if any, female leaders are there in other main garment producing countries, like Bangladesh, Cambodia, Sri Lanka, etc. At factory level, based on my field work experience, it is more likely to find female union union leaders (although still far from establishing a majority); how many successfully move up the union hierarchy?
Question
In Capital Vol II, Marx disaggregates capital into three separate but intertwined circuits of money capital, productive capital and commodity (commercial) capital, that combined forms the circuit of ‘industrial capital’.The capital circuit enables us to analyse the differences between and specialisations of companies – which are functionally complementary within the accumulation process as a whole. There exists a small body of work discussing how this division of labour gives birth to distinctive capitalist agents and class fractions (see, e.g., Van der Pijl 1984; 1998; Overbeek, 1993: Harrison and Harris, 2000), which organise themselves collectively to protect and promote their worldviews, interests and institutions as well as to win the consent of subordinate groups. My question is: In today's context of global production networks, whereby most labour-intensive production in manufacturing is outsourced to contract manufacturers in Asia, can we distinguish an 'Asian' fraction of (productive) capital? And if so, how do we recognise it as such?
Question
Many company codes of conduct include a standard on freedom of association and collective bargaining, sometimes explicitly referring to ILO Conventions 87 and 98. Some companies, however, add the phrase 'the right to not associate with third-party organizations such as labor organizations' (Intel). Or use similar wordings like 'the right of workers to refrain from such activities' (Hewlett Packard/ Samsung). I'm looking for a discussion (or critique) on the use of these phrases in the context of codes of conduct and global supply chains. Any ideas?
Question
I'm planning field research, including a survey, in Indonesia. I'm looking into monkeysurvey as a way to develop an online survey, but I'm wondering what experiences, good and bad, researchers have with this tool?
Question
I am trying to apply some of Rancière's thinking to worker discontent in global production networks. While these disruptions depart from specific sites (workplaces), for example wild cat strikes in China or Vietnam, they also 'escalate over space' through cross-border solidarity networks and help to hold global lead firms accountable for abuses in their global supply chains. While I find Ranciere useful in understanding (and valuing) these struggles, I'm not sure how I should understand his notion that politics is always 'local and occasional'. Would this rule out any form of cosmopolitan 'politics'?
Question
I am looking for research that analyses forms of 'digital organising' in countries/industries where trade unions are weak, repressed or outlawed. Do workers build connections through social media? Does it help in organising? etc.
Question
I'm especially interested in examples of how cost increases, especially wages, are past on in global value chains. Suggestions how global value chains cope with increases in other inputs – e.g. raw materials, energy costs, etc. are also welcome. Are there patterns to when costs are passed on to consumers, margins are reduced, or (as it seems to happen in apparel) are labour costs used as a ‘safety valve’ to offset other cost increases? 
Question
There is a well-established empirical relationship between income and the proportion of expenditure on food. This relationship is known as Engel’s Law, after the Belgium economist Ernst Engel (1821-1896). This law states that as people’s income rises, they spend relatively less of the household’s budget on food. This phenomenon is found within countries, where the working class spends a relatively larger proportion of their income on food compared to middle and upper classes. It is also found on a cross-country basis, where poor countries spend relatively much more of their GNP on food compared to wealthier countries. In the USA and many European countries, the proportion spent on food is well below 20 per cent, while in poorest garment-producing countries it is well over 50 per cent. For this research we try to cluster garment-producing/exporting countries around their food-share in household budgets. 

Network

Cited By

Projects

Projects (2)
Project
This project seeks to bring together (update and develop) a series of papers on Nike. Discussing, among other things, commodification and socialisation of labour, subcontracted capitalism, branding, the role of giant contractors, worker discontent, and the limits of private regulation.
Project
The project discusses five spatial strategies through which workers (and allies) engage lead firms in the garment industry.