Corporate Accountability and Worker Rights

ARC’s research on transnational advocacy in cocoa, apparel, and seafood supply chains promotes shared learning on the change strategies of worker and community organizers in the global South. The project considers how they challenge political and economic power-holders and build alliances among workers’, women’s and environmental movements.

Villagers at a Right to Hearing camp organized by the Government of Rajasthan under the Right to Hearing Act. The camps would ordinarily entail complainants submitting their grievances, getting dated acknowledgment slips (‘pink slips’) and then participating in an open collective forum where the administration would report publicly on actions taken on individual grievances. Photo credit: Digvijay Singh.

About the Work

ARC’s corporate accountability work centers the voices and experiences of national worker rights advocates in international discussions of policies and strategies to increase both corporate and public accountability.

Transnational advocacy networks have increasingly homed in on global supply chains. Rights advocates have created industry-focused campaigns that leverage corporate pressure, trade, and development policies to highlight abuses and advance corporate accountability. Global corporations have increasingly acknowledged flaws in their supply chain monitoring and the need for broader due diligence on how their operations impact human rights and the environment. How will this momentum impact worker and community organizations’ efforts to bolster their own capacity to organize, drive government accountability, and increase access to legal remedy for those whose rights are violated?

This area of ARC’s research focuses on labor organizers who are making a difference for workers and local communities producing cocoa, apparel, and seafood in Bangladesh, Cambodia, Thailand, Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire and other countries. These leaders organize workers, provide legal aid, expose abuses, and build national social movements. Closing civic space is a very real threat for them. Often these national organizers come under added duress because they are challenging both the government and business elites in their country.

Labor link podcast

The Labor Link Podcast is a hosted by ARC senior researcher Judy Gearhart and produced by Evan Matthew Papp of Empathy Media Lab.

The Labor Link Podcast

The Labor Link Podcast supports workers’ rights in global supply chains by sharing personal stories and perspectives of the brave individuals organizing the workers who make our stuff. The Labor Link Podcast is hosted by ARC senior researcher Judy Gearhart and produced by Empathy Media Lab.

Sawit Kaewwan, Thailand

Thai unions have offered repeatedly to collaborate with industry and government. Instead, the government is pursuing criminal charges against Sawit and 12 of his colleagues for organizing a national railway safety campaign they launched back in 2009. The charges appear politically motivated because they were filed in 2019 just before the statute of limitations expired. Thailand’s National Human Rights Commission has condemned the actions against the trade unionists. Sawit’s full podcast is now available. Or listen to the 5 minute version from RadioLabour.


Photo credit: State Enterprises Workers’ Relations Confederation / State Railway Workers’ Union.

“There will be no way for us to be able to solve every single problem of migrant workers here in Thailand. The only way we can do it, we need to have them to speak up about the problem. We need to have them form their own organization, representing themselves.”

Sawit Kaewwan, the secretary general of the State Enterprises Workers’ Relations Confederation (SERC), has mobilized the Thai trade union movement to support migrant workers, especially those at risk for human trafficking. Sawit’s vision has been to build an inclusive labor movement and strategies to empower migrant workers. He provides a clear view into the challenges and risks that come with movement building.

Tola Moeun, Cambodia

The Cambodian authorities often use legislation and the judicial system to restrict free speech, jail government critics, and disperse workers, trade union representatives and farmers when engaging in peaceful assembly. The 2015 Law on Associations and Non-Governmental Organizations imposes a range of restrictions on both domestic and foreign NGOs. The government has used the pandemic to increase surveillance and restrict civic freedoms. Listen to Tola’s full podcast! Listen to Garment workers in Cambodia need help a 4’42” version hosted by Radio Labour.


Photo credit: International Labor Rights Forum.

“Talking about the human rights situation in Cambodia, we believe that the democratic shrinking space is the main root cause that undermines labor rights and human rights.”

Tola Moeun is a human rights defender and the Executive Director of the Center for Alliance of Labor and Human Rights (CENTRAL), an NGO which supports Cambodian laborers by providing them with legal aid, and other appropriate means, to demand transparent and accountable governance on labor and human rights issues.

Kalpona Akter, Bangladesh

In this podcast Kalpona shares her story and what keeps her inspired to continue fighting for apparel workers’ rights, despite enduring threats and regular surveillance by the government. She also explains why corporate accountability needs to include a binding commitment from global apparel brands. Listen to Kalpona’s full podcast.

Akter head shot

Photo credit: Matthieu Lemaire-Courapied /

“I believe once you start work for worker rights, you cannot stop. You just can’t stop yourself. I need to protest. I need to have these workers’ back.”

Kalpona Akter is a former child worker and labor activist from Bangladesh. She is the founder and Executive Director of the Bangladesh Center for Workers Solidarity and was awarded Human Rights Watch’s Alison Des Forges award for Extraordinary Activism.

Aung Kyaw, Myanmar / Thailand

Thai labor law does not allow migrant workers to form and lead their own trade unions, but Migrant Worker Rights Network (MWRN) has persisted by engaging seafood processing companies to gain access to migrant workers, establish welfare committees, and negotiate agreements. Having fled Myanmar in 1988 after the military coup, Aung Kyaw worked in shrimp peeling sheds, studied the Thai labor law, and soon began organizing fellow migrant workers to demand better treatment. Listen to Aung Kyaw’s podcast.

Photo credit: International Labor Rights Forum.

“When I arrived in Thailand, I was an illegal migrant worker. But even though I work in a factory, I read the news every day.

I read about the minimum wage. I read about eight hour working hours and how much workers should get paid for overtime.”

Aung Kyaw is one of the founders and longtime lead organizers of the Migrant Worker Rights Network (MWRN), a membership-based organization for migrant workers from Myanmar residing and working mainly in Thailand. Founded in 2009, MWRN has pioneered a power-building approach to combatting human trafficking and forced labor, working closely with the Thai trade union movement to advocate for better legal protections for worker organizing and collective bargaining rights in Thailand.

Counterparts, Allies and Collaborators

Senior researcher Judy Gearhart leads this work for ARC, leveraging over 25 years of experience building multi-stakeholder coalitions to help workers and affected communities secure legal and corporate reforms.

The Labor Link Podcast is affiliated with the Labor Radio Network and was produced with Evan Matthew Papp of Empathy Media Lab, a production and publishing house, an artist studio, and an event space.

The work is funded by The David & Lucille Packard Foundation.

Related Resources

Coping with modern slavery in the fisheries sector, Destructive Fisheries Indonesia (DFI) podcast (Judy Gearhart discussing fishery workers’ rights, January 2023)

How can data used to trace seafood also fight human rights and labor abuses in this industry? Seafood Alliance for Legality and Traceability (SALT) podcast (Judy Gearhart and Rainer Braun, discussing the intersection between environmental justice and core human rights of exploited fishery workers, September 2022)

Human Rights and Environmental Due Diligence in the Seafood Industry, report of a field practicum on behalf of the Fisheries Governance Project (Judy Gearhart (ed.),  Christopher Clayton, Jason Cowan, Michaela Dreeszen, Madeline Elminowski, Kyra Jones, Alex Mathews, Rishi Parikh, Luisa Pavarino Spezia, Leah Rullman, and Nina Song, 2022)

(Dis)Incentivizing Democracy; the Role of Global Corporations in Cambodia opinion piece, Business & Human Rights Resource Center (Judy Gearhart 2021)

How can the World Bank reduce child labor and farmer poverty with its proposed Côte d’Ivoire Cocoa Project? blog, Bank Information Center (Sofia Dinn with Judy Gearhart 2021)

Is the Thai government punishing anti-human trafficking advocates? news article, Thomson Reuters Foundation (Judy Gearhart 2021)

The Corporate Accountability Paradox Accountability Keywords blog (Judy Gearhart 2021)

The corporate accountability paradox opinion piece, Business & Human Rights Resource Center (Judy Gearhart 2021)

Picturing Accountability: What We Learned from the Photography of the Rana Plaza Disaster ARC Working Paper (Ismail Ferdous and Naomi Hossain 2020)

Rethinking MSIs: MSIs and the Search to Cure the Global Governance Gap  MSIntegrity blog (Judy Gearhart 2020)

Health Worker Protests & Proposals ARC research page