Who Mops The Floors At The Fortune 500? Corporate Self-Regulation and The Low-Wage Workplace

Source: Cynthia Estlund, Lewis and Clark Law Review, Vol. 12 no. 3, August 2008

Rising inequality in the U.S. is reflected and largely created in the labor market, and in the huge and growing disparity in wages and working conditions between the top and the bottom. In particular, the meager and often illegal wages and working conditions in the low-wage labor market pose a threat not only to the well-being of the working poor but to the health of our democratic society. So what is to be done? Both labor law reform that enables workers to form unions and stronger public enforcement of labor standards are essential, but are unlikely to fill the enforcement gap. This Essay finds a partial solution to the problem of underenforcement in the fact that many low-wage workers supply labor–sometimes directly but often through one or more layers of contract–to large firms with prodigious internal regulatory resources and a large stake in their reputations as responsible corporate citizens. The law has already moved, and could productively be pushed further, in the direction of encouraging, shaping, and relying upon compliance structures within regulated entities themselves. Both law and society have also taken steps toward holding large firms responsible for the illegal conditions that prevail at the bottom of their supply chains. But more can and should be done to encourage the large and rich firms that are reaping the greatest profits from globalization to take responsibility for securing decent minimum wages and working conditions for the workers who supply them with essential labor inputs.
See also:
Jeffrey D. Jones, The Unaffordable Nation: Searching For A Decent Life in America, 2007

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