Back to the Future? A critical reflection on Neil Kearney’s mature systems of industrial relations perspective on the governance of outsourced apparel supply chains

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As the auditing model for assuring social compliance in apparel commodity chains is called into question, the global quest continues for institutions, policies and governance structures which can contribute towards the protection of worker rights, the promotion of decent work and an upgrading of working conditions and competencies. One such model, promoted by Neil Kearney, the late General Secretary of the International Textile, Garment and Leather Workers’ Federation, calls for the implementation of mature systems of industrial relations (MSIR) based on trade union recognition, procedural agreements and collective bargaining. This working paper charts the origins of MSIR, deconstructs the approach into its constituent elements and critically assesses these against the backdrop of governance debates in outsourced apparel production. Some conclusions and recommendations are drawn for a future research agenda.