Research Seminar

Tim Bartley: Perceptions of distant problems. Popular understandings of labor and environmental problems in global supply chains

Date: 16 March 2022
Time: 14:00-15:45

Tim Bartley is a senior lecturer at the Department of Sociology at Stockholm University. He is an organizational, political, and economic sociologist with particular interests in globalization, labor, and the environment.  

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The production of clothing, food, electronics, and many other items frequently implicates transnational corporations in distant forms of labor abuse and environmental degradation.  While companies have typically responded by promoting voluntary corporate responsibility and sustainability initiatives, a new wave of state intervention has begun to put harder restrictions on the sale of objectionable items. 

In this seminar, I will present new evidence about how people on the consuming end of global supply chains (in the U.S. and Germany) perceive these issues.  Using survey experiments, I find that distant labor and environmental problems provoke varied levels of interest in state intervention as well as different justifications for state intervention—with some problems evoking consequentialist accounts of concern and relevance while others evoke logics of appropriateness.  In addition, I find that corporate promises of voluntary reform, regardless of their credibility, reduce the perceived need for state intervention—to a similar degree in the U.S. and Germany, despite different baseline levels of trust in business and government. Advocacy frames that seek to make distant problems seem more urgent (such as scientific or criminal frames) have more mixed effects in both countries.


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