Wednesday, February 22, 2017
Over the past decade, the United States has experienced a stunning 65% decline in undocumented immigration. While politicians seem unaware of this change, firms that once relied on local undocumented workers as a low-wage labor force feel it acutely. Such companies have increasingly applied to sponsor temporary migrants from abroad (sometimes called “guest workers”) to fill empty jobs. In 2015, the number of migrant workers entering the United States on visas was nearly double that of undocumented arrivals — almost the inverse of just 10 years earlier. Yet notice of this dramatic shift, and examination of its implications for U.S. law and the regulation of employment in particular, has been absent from legal scholarship. This Article fills that gap, arguing that employers’ recruitment of would-be migrants from other countries, unlike their use of undocumented workers already in the United States, creates a transnational network of labor intermediaries — the “human supply chain” — whose operation undermines the rule of law in the workplace, benefiting U.S. companies by reducing labor costs while creating distributional harms for U.S. workers, and placing temporary migrant workers in situations of severe subordination. It identifies the human supply chain as a key structure of the global economy, a close analog to the more familiar product supply chains through which U.S. companies manufacture products abroad.
The Article highlights a stark governance deficit with regard to human supply chains, analyzing the causes and harmful effects of an effectively unregulated world market for human labor. Drawing on the author’s original research into innovative public, private, and hybrid approaches to the governance of human supply chains, the Article sets out and evaluates a range of potential interventions, ultimately proposing a new supply chain liability that realigns risk and responsibility for the harms that attend the global recruitment of low-wage workers.