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CEP Discussion Paper
White Hats or Don Quixotes? Human Rights Vigilantes in the Global Economy
Kimberly Ann Elliott and Richard Freeman
May 2004
Paper No' CEPDP0638:
Full Paper (pdf)

With the continuing expansion of global economic integration, labor standards in developing countries have become a hot button issue. One result has been a proliferation of efforts to use the market to put pressure directly on multinational corporations to improve wages and working conditions in their overseas operations and to insist that their suppliers do so as well. This paper analyzes the dynamics of these efforts in terms of a 'market for standards' in which consumers, stimulated by human rights activists, demand that corporations improve working conditions in supplier factories. The paper presents evidence that such a consumer demand exists and analyzes the incentives corporations face to respond to it. It examines the nature of the critical intermediary role played by activists in stimulating consumer demands and assesses the outcomes in the major anti-sweatshop campaigns of the 1990s. The paper also addresses the limitations of such consumer-based campaigns and the concern expressed by some that these activist campaigns may do more harm than good, by deterring investment in and trade with poor countries. It concludes with an overall assessment of when ¿doing good¿ actually does good.