Governing Labour Standards in the Chinese Electronics Manufacturing Industry: Labour Market Institutions and Governance of Global Production Chains

Transition from a planned economy to a market economy has brought unprecedented success in rapid industrialization and poverty reduction in China. It has also brought the enormous challenges of restructuring China’s labour markets, developing new legal norms governing new market-based employment relations and building new institutions of labour relations. In the 1990s, when the old system was under restructuring, while new shared norms were yet to emerge and prevail there was a regulatory and institutional vacuum. This led to widespread problems such as sweatshop working conditions, weak law enforcement and a rising number of disputes.

Under a joint framework, a research team mapped the actors and identified means to tackle emerging social problems surrounding labour standards in China. Focus was placed on the electronics industry. The central research question was: “How do public and private players active in the definition and resolution of this problem cooperate and/or compete, and what effects does this have on labour standards in this sector?”