Their brothers' keeper: Global buyers and the legal duty to protect suppliers' employees

Joe Phillips, Suk Jun Lim

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)


The perception of a race to the bottom in international sourcing has lead to calls for worldwide standards to improve health, safety, and wage conditions among Global South workers. With the state's retreat and immature international regimes, the primary regulatory response has been private codes of conduct which buyers impose on foreign suppliers. This represents a sociological shift with buyers assuming a paternalistic role over the factories' workers. When this role combines with poor code enforcement, the buyer may be at legal risk under U.S. law. Workers could claim that the buyer's code and related policies create a duty to ensure supplier compliance. When workers are then damaged by a code violation, they might sue the buyer. Our Article considers the argument's viability using standard tort and contract claims. The legal analysis is informed by interviews of buyers and suppliers, and surveys of workers. The feasibility of each claim varies but all are colorable, posing risk for buyers and potential for foreign workers. The risk and potential are enhanced by American jurisprudence's historical broadening of legal duties and the persistent evolution of global human rights principles.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)333-379
Number of pages47
JournalRutgers Law Review
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2009 Dec

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Law


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