From horizontal to vertical labour governance: The International Labour Organization (ILO) and decent work in global supply chains

Huw Thomas*, Peter Turnbull

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)

6 Citations (Scopus)
375 Downloads (Pure)


The role of the International Labour Organization (ILO) in the governance of global supply chains is typically neglected or simply dismissed as ineffective. This is understandable as global supply chains have undermined the traditional nation state (horizontal) paradigm of global labour governance, most notably the international Conventions agreed by the tripartite constituents (governments, employers and workers’ representatives) of the ILO. But this simply poses the question of whether, and if so how, the ILO can reframe the system of global labour governance to include the (vertical) global supply chains that all too often fail to deliver ‘decent work for all’. Based on an extended ethnographic study, we demonstrate how policy entrepreneurs (international civil servants) within the ILO can play a pivotal role in not only reframing the discourse in a way that resonates with the ‘lived experiences’ of constituents but also ‘orchestrate’ the social partners in order to secure majority support for a process that might ultimately lead to a new standard (Convention) for decent work in global supply chains. A new approach to employment relationships in global supply chains is ‘in the making’, with the potential to improve working conditions and rights at work for millions across the globe.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)536-559
Number of pages24
JournalHuman Relations
Issue number4
Early online date8 Sep 2017
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2018


Structured keywords

  • Perspectives on Work
  • MGMT theme Work Futures
  • MGMT Work Organisation and Public Policy


  • decent work
  • discursive institutionalism
  • global labour governance
  • global supply chains
  • international labour standards
  • strategic framing

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