ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Power, Inequality and Corporate Social Responsibility: The Politics of Ethical Compliance in the South Indian Garment Industry

Based on fieldwork in the Tiruppur garment manufacturing cluster in Tamil Nadu, this paper focuses on the ways in which ethical corporate regulations are shaped by and constitutive of power relations and inequalities in the global market. It explores the ways in which standards imposed on supply firms help to generate not only measurable and auditable changes in conditions of work, but also to mould social relationships between different actors in transnational production chains. It argues that codes and standards do not merely contribute to the manufacture of commodities to specified standards; they also generate new social regimes of power and inequality.

This article is based on fieldwork carried out in Tiruppur in 2000, 2005-06 and 2008-09. The research was funded by a Leverhulme Research Fellowship (2005-06) and an ESRC-DFID Research Grant (RES-167-25-0296). I thank K Murali for invaluable research assistance in the field, and am particularly grateful to Grace Carswell, Judith Heyer, Jeff Pratt, Dinah Rajak, Supriya RoyChowdury and the anonymous reviewer for comments on earlier drafts of this article. All shortcomings remain my own.


Corporate codes of conduct and voluntary labour standards have begun to affect the world of production across the globe. Such codes and standards seek to improve the conditions of employment of workers in sourcing factories, especially those located in developing countries. While the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) concerns of western companies cannot be reduced to a set of codes and standards, in sectors such as food and garment production such labour codes nevertheless form the primary tool through which buying companies and chain stores seek to influence the social and environmental conditions of e mployment in their outsourcing networks (Nadvi and Wältring 2004: 71-73).

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