Regulating Transnational Labor: Trafficked, Forced, and Informalized Labor

Scholar in Residence Lecture III

  • Date: Jun 21, 2022
  • Time: 05:00 PM
  • Speaker: Karen Shire
  • University of Duisburg-Essen
  • Sign up: info@mpifg.de
Regulating Transnational Labor: Trafficked, Forced, and Informalized Labor

The extreme exploitation of labor in the form of trafficked, forced, or informalized employment has pervaded the labor-intensive, low-wage segments of labor markets across the global economy. While the discussion of regulatory pathways in this series of lectures so far has attributed challenges to gaps in international conventions and national/sectoral regulations, in this domain, international rules and normative principles are extensive and widely shared. Moreover, extreme exploitation is not confined to the institutionally thinner labor market contexts of the developing world. The available statistics suggest that a large share of trafficked labor is situated in Europe and occurs between the EU member states. Why, then, does extreme exploitation persist, even where conventions are ratified, norms become guiding principles, and employment is heavily regulated at the national level? In this last lecture the persistence of forced and informalized labor in the advanced economies is explained in reference to an intersectional understanding of social inequalities that involves an analysis of gender and global inequalities as well as post-industrial capitalism in the constitution of the global economy. The relative weight given to regulations designed for protecting the class-based vulnerabilities of dependent wage laborers in the postwar settlements and institutions of industrial citizenship in part accounts for why states with strong regulatory capacities have been caught off guard in addressing contemporary forms of triangular and indebted labor, both of which exploit vulnerabilities based as much on inequalities rooted in gender and citizenship as on the inequalities fundamental to the fictional commodification of labor power. The dynamics of forced and informalized labor are discussed in reference to Shire’s recent research on the regulation of prostitution and welfare markets for domestic/care labor in Europe.

In her lecture series Karen Shire develops an economic sociological approach to the making and regu­lation of transnational labor markets in the global economy. What makes the cross-border mobility of migrant labor possible is the subject of migration infrastructures research, while labor market scholars have restricted their analyses to migrants in the context of national labor market institutions. In their approaches to regulation, migration scholars often advocate for free movement, while labor scholars focus on how cross-border labor threatens hard-won labor protections. Karen Shire’s three lectures seek to gain leverage on the contradictions between liberalizing labor mobility and regulating employment across territorial jurisdictions by drawing on research exploring the organization and coordination of cross-border labor markets, and the interface between legal and illegal market exchanges. Empirically the talks draw on historical research on the emergence of modern labor markets, contemporary research on labor governance, and her own empirical studies of cross-border labor mobility in the Asia Pacific and the European Union.

Publication recommended for preparatory reading


Selected publications
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