Christian Scheper

Kurzexposé zum Promotionsvorhaben von Christian Scheper

The Politics of Human Rights in Global Production Networks

The modern concept of human rights has evolved in the context of liberal international law and the capitalist nation state, but it is increasingly transposed to the field of multi-national private enterprises. In recent years human rights have become an important element of corporate social responsibility agendas and management knowledge. Also, international institutions, such as the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, more and more draw on the idea of private responsibility and a distinct ‘corporate responsibility to respect human rights’. 

Global value chains and production networks have become a centre of attention in this context, especially with regard to fundamental labour rights. I interpret global production networks as fields that shape social relations and are highly political in character. They form specific political arenas which lie square to – but are still highly influenced by – the traditional system of nation states. In this transnational arena corporations develop their own forms of governance and control, often relying on market-, network- and hierarchy-based practices of standardisation and benchmarking, monitoring, and auditing, and closely linked to economic theories, norms, and concepts. Human rights now pose a novel kind of problem from this perspective which needs to be incorporated and translated into corporate governance. 

I am interested in the politics involved in this process of ‘corporatizing’ human rights. Drawing on post-structuralist political theory and the ‘practice turn’ in social theory, I develop an ontology of practice that is focused on business routines with their implicit rules and norms, but remains sensitive to relations of power and hegemonic forms of representation. Based on this framework I combine a discourse analysis of supply chain management journals and a case study in the sportswear industry to make the case for a reflective understanding of rights and corporate policy, taking seriously the productive character of management knowledge and practice.