Women Workers and Labour Standards: The problem of 'human rights'
The International Labour Organisation's Declaration of Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work of 1998 formalised an approach to global labour issues known as the Core Labour Standards (CLS). The CLS have privileged a specific set of labour standards as possessing the kinds of universalistic qualities associated with ideas of 'human rights'; the abolition of forced and child labour, equality of opportunity, and trade union rights. But what does this 'human rights' approach mean from the point of view of those women workers who dominate employment in some of the most globalised, and insecure, industries in the world? In this article, I make the case for critical feminist engagement with the gender-blind, and neoliberal-compatible, approach to economic rights as set out in the CLS. Not least, this article raises wider concerns about the insufficiency of approaches to economic rights that are designed to work within the (gendered) structures of a neoliberal economic development paradigm. It is suggested that the CLS have endorsed a voluntarist approach to labour standards that views the promotion and regulation of human rights by global corporations as unproblematic. The article challenges this perspective, drawing upon the work of number of feminist scholars working in the area of women's employment and corporate codes of conduct. These feminist writings have specifically avoided the language of human rights; thus questions need to be asked concerning the possibilities and the limitations that the CLS opens up for women's human rights activism.
Review of International Studies