Transnational Labor Alliances and Why Corporations Concede: Lessons from Southeast Asia

TitleTransnational Labor Alliances and Why Corporations Concede: Lessons from Southeast Asia
Publication TypeConference Paper
Year of Publication2015
AuthorsBrookes, Marissa
Conference NameInternational Studies Association Annual Convention
Date Published02/2015
Conference LocationNew Orleans, LA
KeywordsSoutheast Asia, TLAs, transnational activism, transnational advocacy networks, transnational corporations, transnational labor alliances

This paper analyzes the dynamics of transnational labor alliances (TLAs), which entail active cooperation by workers from two or more different countries aimed at altering the behavior of a transnational corporation. Unlike transnational advocacy networks (TANs), TLAs are motivated mainly by material goals and do not seek to involve the state in their conflicts with corporations. Consequently, TLAs do not follow the boomerang model (Keck and Sikkink 1998) of transnational activism. Existing theories of transnational activism are therefore inadequate for explaining the recent success of TLAs in improving working conditions and labor rights across a variety of firms around the world. This paper thus develops a theory of success and failure in TLAs by investigating the mechanisms through which TLA campaigns do or do not have an impact on corporate practices. Using original interview data and process-tracing methods of causal analysis, I compare two highly similar TLA campaigns centered on labor disputes at foreign-owned luxury hotels in Indonesia and Cambodia. I find that the Indonesia-based TLA failed while the Cambodia-based TLA succeeded because the latter directly threatened the target corporation’s core, material interests, while the former did not. The evidence suggests that while TLAs share some characteristics in common with TANs, the mechanism through which transnational activists compel a target actor to change its behavior differs in TLA campaigns.