Skip to main content Accessibility help
Hostname: page-component-684899dbb8-7wlv9 Total loading time: 0.916 Render date: 2022-05-21T16:26:09.552Z Has data issue: true Feature Flags: { "shouldUseShareProductTool": true, "shouldUseHypothesis": true, "isUnsiloEnabled": true, "useRatesEcommerce": false, "useNewApi": true }

Transnational Advocates and Labor Rights Enforcement in the North American Free Trade Agreement

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  02 January 2018

Kimberly A. Nolan García*
International Studies Division of the Centro de Investigación y Docencia Económicas in Mexico


This article investigates the impact of trade-based social clauses on labor rights enforcement. Drawing on insights from recent theoretical work on transnational advocacy networks and labor rights, the study examines how transnational groups and domestic actors engage the labor rights mechanisms under the NAFTA labor side agreement, the NAALC. A statistical analysis of original data drawn from NAALC cases complements interviews with key participants to analyze the factors that predict whether the three national mediation offices review labor dispute petitions. This study suggests that transnational activism is a key factor in explaining petition acceptance. Transnational advocates craft petitions differently from other groups and, by including worker testimony in the petitions, signal to arbitration bodies the possibility of corroborating claims through contact with affected workers.

Research Article
Copyright © University of Miami 2011

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


Alben, Elissa. 2001. Gatt and the Fair Wage: a Historical Perspective on the Labor-Trade Link. Columbia Law Review 101, 6: 1410–47.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Anner, Mark S. 2002a. Between Economic Nationalism and Transnational Solidarity: Labor Responses to Internationalization and Industrial Restructuring in the Americas. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association, Boston, August 29–September 1.Google Scholar
Anner, Mark S. 2002b. Defending Labor Rights Across Borders. In Struggles for Social Rights in Latin America, ed. Eckstein, Susan and Wickham-Crowley, Timothy P.. New York : Routledge. 147–66.Google Scholar
Armbruster-Sandoval, Ralph. 2003. Globalization and Transnational Labor Organizing: the Honduran Maquila Industry and the Kimi Campaign. Social Science History 27, 4: 551–76.Google Scholar
Babson, Steve. 2002. Free Trade and Worker Solidarity in the North American Auto Industry. In Unions in a Globalized Environment: Changing Borders, Organizational Boundaries, and Social Roles, ed. Nissen, Bruce. London : M. E. Sharpe. 1744.Google Scholar
Bandy, Joe. 2004. So What Is To Be Done? Maquila Justice Movements, Transnational Solidarity, and the Dynamics of Resistance. In The Social Costs of Industrial Growth in Northern Mexico, ed. Kopinak, Kathryn. La Jolla : Center for U.S.-Mexican Studies, University of California, San Diego. 405–55.Google Scholar
Bazillier, Remi. 2007. Core Labor Standards and Development: Impact on Long Term Income. World Development 36, 1: 1730.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Boswell, Terry, and Stevis, Dimitris. 1997. Globalization and International Labor Organizing: a World-Systems Perspective. Work and Occupations 24, 3: 288308.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Buchanan, Ruth, and Chaparro, Rusby. 2008. International Institutions and Transnational Advocacy: the Case of the North American Agreement on Labor Cooperation. UCLA Journal of International Law and Foreign Affairs 13, 129: 129–59.Google Scholar
Cárdenas, Sonia. 2004. Norm Collision: Explaining the Effects of International Human Rights Pressure on State Behavior. International Studies Review 6, 2 (June): 213–31.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Cingranelli, David L. 2002. Democratization, Economic Globalization, and Workers' Rights. In Democratic Institutional Performance: Research and Policy Perspectives, ed. McMahon, Edward and Sinclair, Thomas A. P.. New York : Praeger. 139–58.Google Scholar
Cingranelli, David L., and Tsai, Chang-yen. 2003. Democracy, Globalization and Workers' Rights: a Comparative Analysis. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association, Philadelphia, August 28–September 1.Google Scholar
Compa, Lance. 2001. Nafta's Side Labor Agreement and International Labor Solidarity. Antipode 33, 3: 451–67.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Compa, Lance, and Darricarrere, Tashia Hinchliffe. 1996. Private Labor Rights Enforcement Through Corporate Codes of Conduct. In Human Rights, Labor Rights, and International Trade, ed. Compa, and Diamond, Stephen. Philadelphia : University of Pennsylvania Press. 181198.Google Scholar
De Wet, Erika. 1995. Labor Standards in the Globalized Economy: the Inclusion of a Social Clause in the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade/World Trade Organization. Human Rights Quarterly 17, 3: 443–62.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Douglass, William, Fergusson, John-Paul, and Klett, Erin. 2004. An Effective Confluence of Forces in Support of Worker's Rights. Human Rights Quarterly 26, 4: 273–99.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Edelman, Marc. 1999. Peasants Against Globalization: Rural Social Movements in Costa Rica. Stanford : Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
Ehrenberg, Daniel S. 1996. From Intention to Action: An ILO/WTO Enforcement Regime for International Labor Rights. In Human Rights, Labor Rights, and International Trade, ed. Compa, Lance and Diamond, Stephen. Philadelphia : University of Pennsylvania Press. 163–80.Google Scholar
Elliott, Kimberly Ann. 2000. Getting Beyond NO!: Promoting Worker Rights and Trade. In The WTO After Seattle, ed. Schott, Jeffrey. Washington , DC : Institute for International Economics. 189204.Google Scholar
Finbow, Robert. 2006. The Limits of Regionalism: NAFTA's Labor Accord. Burlington : Ashgate.Google Scholar
Franco Hijuelos, Claudia. 2001. Normas laborales en el comercio internacional: el Aclan. Foro Internacional 164, 2: 309–23.Google Scholar
Frundt, Henry J. 1998. Trade Conditions and Labor Rights: U.S. Initiatives, Dominican and Central American Responses. Gainesville : University Press of Florida.Google Scholar
Frundt, Henry J. 1999. Cross-Border Organizing in the Apparel Industry: Lessons from Central America and the Caribbean. Labor Studies Journal 24, 1 (Spring): 89105.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Garvey, Jack I. 1995. Trade Law and Quality of Life: Dispute Resolution under the Nafta Side Accords on Labor and the Environment. American Journal of International Law 89, 2: 439–53.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Graubart, Jonathan. 2008. Legalizing Transnational Activism: The Struggle to Gain Social Change from NAFTA's Citizen Petitions. University Park : Pennsylvania State University Press.Google Scholar
Gray, Maggie, and Hertel, Shareen. 2009. Immigrant Farmworker Advocacy: the Dynamics of Organizing. Polity 41, 4: 409–35.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Greenberg, Josh, and Knight, Graham. 2004. Framing Sweatshops: Nike, Global Production, and the American News Media. Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies 1, 2: 151–75.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Hafner-Burton, Emilie M. 2009. Forced to be Good: Why Trade Agreements Boost Human Rights. Ithaca : Cornell University Press.Google Scholar
Harrison, Ann, and Scorse, Jason. 2004. Globalization's Impact on Compliance with Labor Standards. In Brookings Trade Forum 2003, ed. Rodrik, Dani and Collins, Susan M.. Washington , DC : Brookings Institution Press. 4582.Google Scholar
Harvey, Pharis J. 1994. Failure of the Labor Side Agreement. In NAFTA's First Year: Lessons for the Hemisphere, ed. Anderson, Sarah and Cavanaugh, John. Washington , DC : Alliance for Responsible Trade. 1219.Google Scholar
Hathaway, Dale. 2002. Mexico's Frente Auténtico del Trabajo and the Problem of Unionizing Maquiladoras. Labor History 43, 4: 427–38.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Hertel, Shareen. 2003. Una contienda acotada: la defensa transnacional de los derechos laborales de las mujeres en las maquiladoras de México. Región y Sociedad 26, 16: 153–91.Google Scholar
Hertel, Shareen. 2006a. New Moves in Transnational Advocacy: Getting Labor and Economic Rights on the Agenda in Unexpected Ways. Global Governance 12, 3: 263–81.Google Scholar
Hertel, Shareen. 2006b. Unexpected Power: Conflict and Change Among Transnational Activists. Ithaca : Cornell University Press.Google Scholar
Hovis, John H. 1994. In Re: Submission No. 940004. Letter to Irasema Garza. January 19. On file with author.Google Scholar
Juárez Núñez, Huberto. 2002. Maquila Workers in Mexico: the Prospects of Organization and International Solidarity. Labor History 43, 4: 3950.Google Scholar
Kay, Tamara. 2005. Labor Transnationalism and Global Governance: the Impact of Nafta on Transnational Labor Relationships in North America. American Journal of Sociology 111, 3: 715–56.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Kay, Tamara. 2011. NAFTA and the Politics of Labor Transnationalism. New York : Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Keck, Margaret, and Sikkink, Kathryn. 1998. Activists Beyond Borders: Advocacy Networks in International Politics. Ithaca : Cornell University Press.Google Scholar
Kidder, Thalia G. 2002. Networks in Transnational Labor Organizing. In Restructuring World Politics: Transnational Social Movements, Networks and Norms, ed. Khagram, Sanjeev, Riker, James V., and Sikkink, Kathryn. Minneapolis : University of Minnesota Press. 269–93.Google Scholar
Klein, Naomi. 2000. No Logo. London : Picador.Google Scholar
Kucera, David. 2002. Core Labour Standards and Foreign Direct Investment. International Labour Review 141, 1–2: 3169.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Maquila Solidarity Network. 2003. Mexican Garment Workers Fired for Forming Independent Union: Labour Board Gives Workers the Bureaucratic Shuffle. <> Accessed May 17, 2006.+Accessed+May+17,+2006.>Google Scholar
Mosley, Layna. 2008. Workers' Rights in Open Economies: Global Production and Domestic Institutions in the Developing World. Comparative Political Studies 41, 4–5: 674714.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Mosley, Layna. 2011. Labor Rights and Multinational Production. New York : Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
Mosley, Layna, and Uno, Saika. 2007. Racing to the Bottom or Climbing to the Top? Economic Globalization and Collective Labor Rights. Comparative Politics 40, 8: 923–48.Google Scholar
Murillo, Victoria M., and Schrank, Andrew. 2005. With a Little Help from My Friends: Partisan Politics, Transnational Alliances, and Labor Rights in Latin America. Comparative Political Studies 38, 8: 971–99.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Neumayer, Eric, and de Soysa, Indra. 2006. Globalization and the Right to Free Association and Collective Bargaining: an Empirical Analysis. World Development 34, 1: 3149.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
North American Agreement on Labor Cooperation (NAALC)' 1993. Agreement between the Government of the United States of America, the Government of Canada, and the Government of the United Mexican States. <> Accessed April 5, 2011.+Accessed+April+5,+2011.>Google Scholar
Pangalangan, Raul C. 2002. Sweatshops and International Labor Standards: Globalizing Markets, Localizing Norms. In Globalization and Human Rights, ed. Brysk, Alison. Berkeley : University of California Press. 98114.Google Scholar
Richards, David L., Gelleny, Donald, and Sacko, David H.. 2001. Money with a Mean Streak? Foreign Economic Penetration and Government Respect for Human Rights in Developing Countries. International Studies Quarterly 45, 2: 219–39.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Risse, Thomas, Ropp, Steven, and Sikkink, Kathryn. 1999. The Power of Human Rights: International Norms and Domestic Change. New York : Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Rodrik, Dani. 1996. Labor Standards in International Trade: Do They Matter and What Do We Do About Them? In Emerging Agendas for Global Trade: High Stakes for Developing Countries, ed. Lawrence, Robert Z., Rodrik, Dani, and Whalley, John. Washington , DC : Overseas Development Council. 3579.Google Scholar
Rodrik, Dani. 1997. Has Globalization Gone Too Far? Washington : Peterson Institute for International Economics.Google Scholar
Rosen, Sumner M. 1992. Protecting Labor Rights in Market Economies. Human Rights Quarterly 14, 3: 371–82.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Ross, Andrew, ed. 1997. No Sweat: Fashion, Free Trade and the Rights of Workers. London : Verso.Google Scholar
Salas, Carlos. 2003. The Decline of the Decent Job. NACLA Report on the Americas 39, 1 (July–August): 2339.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Seidman, Gay. 2004. Deflated Citizenship: Labor Rights in a Global Era. In People Out of Place: Globalization, Human Rights, and the Citizenship Gap, ed. Brysk, Alison and Shafir, Gershon. New York : Routledge. 109–30.Google Scholar
Seidman, Gay. 2007. Beyond the Boycott: Labor Rights, Human Rights, and Transnational Activism. New York : Russell Sage Foundation.Google Scholar
Stillerman, Joel. 2003. Transnational Activist Networks and the Emergence of Labor Internationalism in the Nafta Countries. Social Science History 27, 4: 577601.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Tilly, Charles. 1995. Global Flows of Labor and Capital: Globalization Threatens Labor's Rights. International Labor and Working Class History 47 (Spring): 123.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
U.S. Department of Labor. n.d. North American Agreement on Labor Cooperation: a Guide. <> Accessed April 5 2011.+Accessed+April+5+2011.>Google Scholar
U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of International Labor Affairs. n.d. Status of Submissions under the North American Agreement on Labor Cooperation. <> Accessed April 5, 2011.+Accessed+April+5,+2011.>Google Scholar
Villarreal, M. Angeles. 2008. ATPA Renewal: Background and Issues. Congressional Report RS22584. Washington , DC : Library of Congress, October 27.Google Scholar
Weiss, Marley S. 2003. Two Steps Forward, One Step Back, or vice Versa: Labor Rights under Free Trade Agreements from Nafta through Jordan via Chile to Latin America and beyond. University of San Francisco Law Review 37: 689755.Google Scholar
We lls, Don, and Knight, Graham. 2007. Bringing the Local Back in: Trajectories of Contention and the Union Struggle at Kukdong/Mexmode. Social Movement Studies 6, 1: 83103.Google Scholar
Williams, Heather L. 1999. Mobile Capital and Transborder Labor Rights Mobilization. Politics and Society 27, 1: 3966.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Williams, Heather L. 2003. Labor Tragedy and Legal Farce: the Han Young Struggle in Tijuana, Mexico. Social Science History 27, 4: 525–50.Google Scholar
Worker Rights Consortium' 2001. WRC Investigation. Re: Complaint Against Kukdong (Mexico). Washington , DC : Worker Rights Consortium.Google Scholar
Cited by

Save article to Kindle

To save this article to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about saving to your Kindle.

Note you can select to save to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

Transnational Advocates and Labor Rights Enforcement in the North American Free Trade Agreement
Available formats

Save article to Dropbox

To save this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you used this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Dropbox account. Find out more about saving content to Dropbox.

Transnational Advocates and Labor Rights Enforcement in the North American Free Trade Agreement
Available formats

Save article to Google Drive

To save this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you used this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Google Drive account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

Transnational Advocates and Labor Rights Enforcement in the North American Free Trade Agreement
Available formats

Reply to: Submit a response

Please enter your response.

Your details

Please enter a valid email address.

Conflicting interests

Do you have any conflicting interests? *