In the recent decades, fashion brands and retailers in the West have introduced supplier’s Codes of Conduct (CoC) to strengthen international labour standards in their supply chain. Drawing from the concept of workers’ agency and the theory of reciprocity, this paper examines the implementation of CoC from the workers’ perspective and identifies the mechanism used by the workers to negotiate with their employer. Qualitative data was collected from forty semi-structured interviews with mangers, union representative and workers at a garment factory in Vietnam which manufactures clothes to a few well-known fashion brands in the US and Europe. The findings show that, externally, workers are united with the management in hiding non-compliance practices to pass labour audits while, internally, workers challenge the management about long working hours and low pay. This finding highlights the active roles workers play on the two fronts: towards their clients and towards the management. Their collaboration is motivated by the expectation that the management will return the favour by addressing their demands through a reciprocal exchange principle. This paper sheds light on an alternative approach to understanding collective bargaining and labour activism at the bottom of the supply chain and provides recommendations for further research.
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