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The Consumer Imaginary: Labor Rights, Human Rights, and Citizen-Consumers in the Global Supply Chain

Updated: Jan 18, 2020

By: Kevin Kolben


Consumers are increasingly demanding that the goods and services they consume be produced in a way that meets their social expectations. By extension, they are exhibiting greater willingness to pay more at the cash register for products made in good working conditions, and they are willing to punish companies that do not satisfy these expectations. Driving these “citizen-consumers” is what this Article terms the “consumer imaginary,” which is defined as the narratives that consumers tell themselves about the people that make their things—people whom consumers will likely never meet, and whose lived experiences are distant from their own. Policymakers have attempted to extraterritorially improve working conditions in the global supply chain through public law in at least two ways: (1) incorporating labor standards into trade law and free trade agreements, and (2) corporate transparency laws. Using these two examples as case studies, this Article argues that both of these tools could be better tailored to beneficially exploit the consumer imaginary and mobilize citizen-consumers to compel lead firms to improve labor and human rights in their supply chains.


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