The Field of Industrial Relations and the Challenge of NGOs: The Case of the Clean Clothes Campaign in France
Sociology McGill University Montreal, QC, Canada
This paper builds on Pierre Bourdieu's field theory to analyze the growing intervention of NGOs in matters of labor rights and working conditions.
The concept of field refers to a social topography, an organization of forces, and a battlefield. According to Bourdieu, each field is characterized by a particular hierarchy of forms of capital and rules of the game. Fields are not only spaces of social positions but also symbolic spaces of position-takings by actors. Participants in the field are engaged in an endless struggle for the accumulation of forms of capital specific to this field, the modification of the rules of the game, and the exclusion of current or potential participants, in order to improve or maintain their relative position and authority in the field.
The field of industrial relations is normally composed of three primary actors: organized labor, employers, and the state. This paper contends that it is structured around three primary forms of capital: economic capital, representational capital, and statist capital. Whereas firms try to accumulate economic capital, unions aim at representational capital, that is, the capacity to legitimately represent a given group and act in its name. Finally, the state has its own form of capital--statist capital--that allows it to both write the rules of the game and act as a referee that ratifies the outcome of labor-capital interactions. In contrast, NGOs are endowed with different forms of capital (moral capital and informational capital) accumulated in other fields
This paper claims that NGOs have progressively spilled over from the different fields in which they normally operate and were pulled into the field of industrial relations as a result of (1) the depreciation of the representational capital accumulated by unions, (2) a realignment of the space of position-takings in favor of private or market-based regulation, and (3) the growing transnationalization of industrial relations.
In order to ground and substantiate these claims, this paper focuses on the role and struggle of NGOs and unions in the Clean Clothes Campaign in France. It is based primarily on semi-structured interviews with labor leaders and NGO staff members.