Project on Labor Rights in a Global Economy

Increasingly, globalization impacts every aspect of work and employment, both in the United States and around the world.  Given this reality, LER faculty have been focusing more and more of their research on global labor and human resource issues.  Over the past two years, the School has been discussing how it could best contribute to on-going efforts to understand the impact of globalization on workers and workplaces worldwide.  After much thought, LER has decided to undertake a new initiative that would look at the fundamental issue of labor rights.  This fall the School will launch the Project on Labor Rights in a Global Economy.  The Project will work to move the research agenda on sweatshops, labor standards, and labor rights forward by creating a network of scholars working on these issues around the world. 
In 2009 the School organized the on-campus Symposium on Sweatshops and Labor Standards to discuss the state of research on sweatshops, labor standards, and labor rights and explore the possibility of an initiative to provide research leadership in this area.  Top experts from academia, NGOs, government, and unions were invited to discuss current research and assess the need for a Project. 
The participants in the symposium discussions provided a great deal of insight into the existing body of research in this area and concluded that there was a need for a Project that would help move the research agenda on sweatshops, labor standards, and labor rights forward.  The discussions also provided information on potential sources of funding for future research. The symposium participants helped shape a general framework for a possible initiative and later the School made the decision to create the Project on Labor Rights in a Global Economy.
            Based on discussions at the symposium, and subsequent discussions, the following mission statement was drafted.
Objectives/Mission
A Project on Labor Rights in a Global Economy shall be created in the School of Labor and Employment Relations at Penn State University and shall endeavor to:

  1. Build an international network of scholars engaged in research on labor rights in a global economy and practitioners working in this area (e.g. from ngos, labor organizations, etc.).
  2. Generate interest among, and support for, Penn State faculty from a variety of disciplines interested in doing research on global labor right.
  3. Facilitate discussion between scholars doing research in this area and the major stakeholders involved:  employers, unions, governments, NGOs, etc.
  4. Encourage greater research in the area of global labor rights by raising the profile of the issue, making seed money available, facilitating relationships between scholars, facilitating access to stakeholders, publicizing funding opportunities, etc.
  5. Engage in public scholarship and education in an effort to inform policymakers and the public about the state of global labor rights.
  6. Identify and encourage funding for research on this area, both to support the work of the initiative and to support the work of scholars around the world.
  7. Recruit a small core group of top scholars/experts to the School and to the University
  8. Build a core group of the top scholars/fellows/associates in the area of global labor rights from around the world to advise and guide the initiative and to participate in its activities.
  9. Build the School’s overall expertise in the area of international human resources and employment relations.
  10. Encourage research on global labor rights by young scholars by establishing a post-doctorate scholar position.
  11. In the longer term, the initiative might consider the creation of a journal that would focus on global labor rights as a means of stimulating interest in the area and more widely disseminating research on this issue.
  12. In the longer term, the initiative’s goal is to be recognized internationally as a       leading research group on this issue.

Project Team, 2011-2012
Three School members make up the initial Project team. Coordinating the project is Professor Mark Anner. Dr. Anner worked on labor rights issues in Latin America for over a decade and has been researching workers’ rights in the global apparel industry in Central America and Vietnam. Jill Jensen is the Project’s first postdoctoral scholar. Dr. Jensen recently finished her dissertation on the history of the International Labour Organization and its efforts to monitor international labor standards. She also served as Assistant Director of the Center for the Study of Work, Labor, and Democracy at University of California, Santa Barbara. Lisa Pierson provides administrative support to the project. The project was launched in August 2011. To date the project has worked to establish exchanges with labor scholars at Sun Yat-Sen University in China, pursued ties with labor researchers in Vietnam, and networked with scholars and practitioners to analyze the feasibility of living wage programs for garment workers in developing countries. (For more information about the Project, contact Dr. Mark Anner at: msa10@psu.edu.)
Research Center, Fall 2012
In the fall of 2012, the project will transition into a full research center. The single most important step in making this transition is the hiring of an executive director.  The Center will require a senior faculty member with experience on the issue of global labor rights and standing among scholars working in this area to serve as director.  This person will have the opportunity to build the Center and establish it as the preeminent academic program focusing on research and other activities related to labor rights in a global economy.  To ensure that the director will play a leading role in building and shaping the Center, the current project team will not move forward on major initiatives until the Center Director is in place.  Penn State will undertake an international search to recruit such a person. (For inquires about the Center Director position, contact Dr. Paul Clark at: pclark@la.psu.edu.)
The School has also considered the possibility of hiring a fixed term faculty member with a background as a practitioner to serve as Associate Director of the Center.  This person would have significant experience working for unions, the ILO, NGOs, or government.  Familiarity with these groups, personal contacts, and knowledge of possible funding opportunities would greatly benefit the Center.  This person might also take responsibility for organizing conferences, media relations, and seeking funding.
The School will also create an advisory board, or some other mechanism, that would involve top scholars from around the world in the work of the Center.  This could take a number of forms ranging from the formation of a voluntary advisory board to the creation of a small number of associate or fellow appointments in which top scholars would be paid a small stipend to participate in the activities of the Center.  

Initial Funding and Startup
The School has assumed responsibility for the financial support of the Project and will continue to do so for the initiation of the Center.  It will provide a substantial budget that will include funds for travel, a post-doctorate scholar, conferences, support staff, and operating and startup expenses.  Once established, the Center will pursue additional funding from a range of sources.