The governance of labour in global production networks (GPNs) has become a critical area of concern amongst academics and policymakers alike. To date, GPN research has focused on the role of private company codes and multi-stakeholder ethical initiatives primarily driven by lead-firms. Other GPN studies highlight the critical role of civil society organisations (CSOs) in challenging lead-firm purchasing practices and shaping regulatory outcomes at local production sites. However, GPN research has not sufficiently incorporated the role of nation states in regulating work through legislative frameworks and enforcement regimes, often referred to in the literature as ‘state’ or ‘public’ governance. This is despite a ‘regulatory renaissance’ taking place across certain developing countries, seeking to strengthen their national regulatory labour institutions (Piore and Schrank, 2008:1).
The GPN framework provides an analytical lens through which to conceptualise cross-cutting strands of trans-scalar governance regimes, involving complex networks of state, private and civil society actors operating at multiple scales. Notions of territorial and societal embeddedness are used to elucidate how global ethical standards derived from particular country contexts become enmeshed in national regulatory frameworks and local societal relations, shaping governance outcomes for precarious workers incorporated into GPNs. The paper draws attention to the ‘trans-scalar embeddedness’ of labour governance regimes which interact across geographical scales and, in the case of South African fruit, reflect a ‘trans-scalar governance deficit’ for precarious workers. It is argued that the influence of national regulatory regimes should be more fully incorporated into analytical frameworks for understanding governance outcomes in GPNs.