‘Flawed Strategies to Reducing Labor Exploitations’, 17 May 2017, PhD defense by Mark Kawakami

The main question that this thesis addressed was what private actors – from the companies to the consumers and even the laborers themselves – can do differently than what they are currently doing to further reduce instances of labor exploitation taking place in the global supply chain. To answer this question, this thesis first offered a descriptive overview of popular legal instruments and strategies that private actors are currently employing by relying on labor/employment law, tort law, company law, and contract law. This descriptive overview also addressed various semi- or non-legal instruments and initiatives with the intended aim of reducing labor exploitations as well such as corporate social responsibility initiatives and ethical consumerism campaigns.

Second, this thesis offered a critical analysis of these existing measures and strategies by highlighting instances of their failures: By relying on the adapted capabilities approach (based on Nussbaum’s capabilities approach) as the relevant normative framework, this part of the thesis presented the various flaws and limitations of our current approach to reducing instances of labor exploitation in the global context. Moreover, in conducting this critical analysis, this thesis not only looked at the existing measures and strategies from an intra-disciplinary legal perspective, but conducted a more multi-disciplinary analysis using findings from sociology, anthropology, psychology, and behavioral economics to strengthen the argument that the current approach is indeed flawed.

The two main flaws discovered from conducting this critical analysis was the realization that: 1) current measures and strategies rely overwhelmingly on legal incentives and extrinsic motivators, which (mistakenly) assume private actors to be rational actors; and 2) the current problem-solving process in designing, implementing, and enforcing these measures tends to be hierarchical, rigid, and not adaptive enough to address a global collective action problem like the labor exploitation plaguing our global supply chain.

To remedy these concerns, this thesis made two general proposals: 1) for both private actors and governments alike to rely less on legal norms and resist the urge to simply create more and more legal norms; and 2) for both the private and the public sectors to adopt an alternative problem-solving framework, one that forges and espouses concepts such as private global norm production, reflexive governance, and adaptive management strategies. In sum, this thesis advocated that incorporating these proposals could potentially improve the status quo. By offering examples of how various actors can implement this alternative framework pragmatically, this thesis offered not just a reassessment of what private actors are currently doing, but made recommendations in terms of how they can adapt their strategies moving forward to better alleviate the plight of the marginalized laborers.

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