Labor sustainability in Global Supply Chains

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The concept of sustainability has been an effective organizing principle in the environmental context, illuminating how firm policies and practices can both protect the environment and grow the economy, thereby creating a kind of “win-win” path forward. This type of governance strategy expressly adopts market-based rationales – that is, it gives significant weight to consumer preferences in setting moral limitations on environmental degradation. Put differently, sustainability models assume that consumers will be willing to pay for goods and services that promote – or at least do not worsen – environmental integrity. Recently, labor advocates and officials in the United States have begun wrestling with whether and how sustainability principles might advance the interests of workers. My primary aim in the paper is to explore how this model of governance might operate in the labor context. A key question will be whether advocates and officials can find areas of agreement between consumers and workers. As a starting point, this paper provides three case studies of different governance schemes that attempt to create synergies between consumers and workers.