Print Issue Volume 98 - No. 5

Labor’s Soft Means and Hard Challenges: Fundamental Discrepancies and the Promise of Non-Binding Arbitration for International Framework Agreements

Globalization has led to union decline almost universally across the world’s capitalist democracies. But despite globalization, global labor unions have been able to sign International Framework Agreements (IFAs) with more than 110 multinational corporations that cover about 9 million workers, excluding contractors and suppliers. IFAs are agreements signed by multinational firms and global labor unions. Global labor unions are labor organizations composed of national-level labor organizations. All IFAs must submit to the core labor standards of the International Labor Organization (ILO), to wit, freedom of association and the effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining, elimination of all forms of forced or compulsory labor, effective abolition of child labor, and elimination of discrimination in respect of employment and occupation. IFAs can help reconstruct labor by giving it a role to play in the new global economy. However, as this paper shows, some difficult disagreements may surface over the interpretation of IFA terms, which may stall the IFAs. One way to resolve such disagreements is through non-binding arbitration based on ILO norms. Less than a handful of IFAs have any arbitration clauses. Adding such clauses to IFAs may prove useful as a next step toward the construction of a global industrial relations system.

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