Building Worker Power in Global Supply Chains: Lessons from Apparel, Cocoa, and Seafood

Date: September 2023
Author(s): Judy Gearhart
Publication type: ARC Accountability Working Paper
Published by: Accountability Research Center

This working paper is about the campaigners and worker organizers in the global South and North who have challenged the persistent lack of government and corporate accountability for workers’ rights in the apparel, cocoa, and seafood industries.

The transnational coalitions that have formed across these and other industries have driven significant innovations in global supply chain governance and reshaped international trade and development policies.

This paper documents and draws lessons from the transnational organizing that has enabled these groups to sustain coalitions over many years, evolve their strategies and tactics for challenging power holders, and strengthen the influence of national global South organizers.

Judy Gearhart has advocated for workers’ rights in global supply chains since the 1990s when she started as an organizer in Mexico. She has led multiple transnational advocacy campaigns to support workers in apparel, agriculture, and seafood. Gearhart currently serves as a research professor, developing ARC’s programs on corporate accountability and workers’ rights. She teaches an annual research practicum on human rights and environmental due diligence in the seafood industry at American University and co-teaches the class Human Rights and the Politics of Inequality at Columbia University. Previously, she served as the executive director at the International Labor Rights Forum and as the program director at Social Accountability International. She also worked for UNICEF and the ILO in Honduras and for national NGOs in Mexico and France. Gearhart currently serves as the chair of the board for the Bank Information Center and as the international committee chair for the Child Labor Coalition. Her writing, public speaking, and advocacy work has been cited or appeared in major news outlets, including CNN, NPR, the New York Times, and the Washington Post, and has covered a range of human rights and economic justice issues, including women’s rights, trade policy, labor rights, and democratic participation.