Social responsibility in New Zealand’s offshore supply chains: What would it take to contribute towards improved labour conditions in China?
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Arts
New Zealand initiatives to address supply-chain labour conditions are tending towards reliance on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), a form of private regulation. This thesis explores the effectiveness of private regulation for improving labour conditions, and reasons for its emergence, using the case study of the New Zealand-China relationship. It is argued that CSR brings only cosmetic improvements to a minority of workers in China. It is no replacement for strengthened law enforcement and organisation of workers for affecting significant improvements. CSR can also undermine improvements, and should be approached with caution. The trend towards CSR in New Zealand can be explained by businesses‘ gradually-increasing need and capacity to defend and pursue competitive advantage. However, the trend is best explained as a result of the constraints and power imbalances resulting from the neoliberal political context. For New Zealand to make a genuine commitment to social responsibility would require a shift in power, to groups that will challenge existing constraints and demand explicit action from the Government. It would also require New Zealand consumers and businesses to assume a greater share of the true costs of production. For New Zealand to contribute to improved labour conditions in China would require greater support for the Chinese labour movement and state enforcement. This support could take the form of increased cooperation, highlighting non-compliances, union collaboration and development aid.