Civil Society Activism under US Free Trade Agreements: The Effects of Actorness on Decent Work

Open Access Journal | ISSN: 2183-2463

Article | Open Access

Civil Society Activism under US Free Trade Agreements: The Effects of Actorness on Decent Work

  • Myriam Oehri Permanent Mission of Liechtenstein to the United Nations, USA

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Abstract:  US free trade agreements comprise unique provisions that enable civil society to present public complaints against labor rights violations occurring in the US or its trade partners. To date, a variety of complainants have used these mechanisms, including (inter)national trade unions, human rights organizations, and a priest. And yet, little is known about the submissions’ nature of agency and the effects it has on the procedural continuations to address illicit labor practices. To fill this research lacuna, this article employs a multidisciplinary framework of ‘actorness’ that measures the submitters’ diversity (professionalism/non-professionalism, collectivism/individualism, transnationalism/nationalism) and their effectiveness (rejection/acceptance of submissions and further procedural follow-ups). Combining quantitative examination with in-depth analysis of two diverse cases of actorness, and drawing on expert interviews, public reports, and minutes of meetings, the study reveals that the majority of public submissions were of professional, collective, and transnational nature. However, contrary to what extant literature suggests, this is not a guarantee that they achieve more far-reaching procedural steps in the protection of workers. Non-professional, individual, and national actorness can compensate for the advantages of professionalism, collectivism, and transnationalism.

Keywords:  civil society; decent work; free trade agreements; labor standards; public complaints

Published:   14 December 2017


© Myriam Oehri. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (, which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.