Leveraging change in the working conditions of UK homeworkers

The debate among NGO and union activists about how to improve working conditions and labour rights has been dominated by proponents of specific approaches, arguing variously that the best route is through company codes, legislation, organisation of workers, or sweatshop-style campaigning. This article describes a campaign by NGOs and trade unions that integrates these approaches to improve the labour rights and conditions of UK homeworkers. Its `change model' is to seek changes in company behaviour as part of a strategy to strengthen legislation while also exploring the opportunities and mechanisms for leveraging change in (company) practices and (government) policies: the susceptibility of brand-name companies to campaigning creates an opportunity to leverage changes in their practices; campaigning (threatened or actual) invigorates, and should underpin, engagement with retailers and brand-name companies on the implementation of voluntary codes; and the establishment of a `level playing-field' dynamic means that companies meeting higher standards can become allies in advocating better corporate practices and labour legislation. International development NGOs, with their ability to campaign, engage with brand-name companies, and work alongside unions and workers' organisations across the North-South divide, are uniquely placed to facilitate such integrated strategies.