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Human Rights, Development and Global Justice Series

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SW1.17

Somerset House East Wing

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WC2R 2LS

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The High Road or a Race to the Bottom? Transnational Labour Law and Development on the Belt and Road by Mimi Zou

Abstract: Crucial to China’s economic development and industrialization in the 1980s-1990s has been a growth model based on labour-intensive, export-led manufacturing, which attracted vast foreign direct investment into the World’s Factory. From the late 1990s onwards, China has adopted a ‘Going Out’ development policy that entails accelerated outward direct investment (ODI) and the internationalisation of Chinese firms. The ‘Belt and Road’ initiative will expand the scale, magnitude, and reach of Chinese ODI in the coming years. In this context, Chinese multinational enterprises (MNEs) are emerging as increasingly prominent and influential actors in the global political economy. At the same time, there have been growing controversies over the social impacts of Chinese investments on the host countries in which they operate in, particularly in ‘weak governance zones’ where host states are unable or unwilling to assume their responsibilities. As labour and environmental protection laws have strengthened in China in recent years, some critics have pointed to the ‘exporting’ of poor labour and environmental standards by Chinese MNEs to developing countries. In light of such criticism, the Chinese government has introduced a variety of laws and policies that are aimed at influencing the behaviour of Chinese MNEs abroad, particularly its state-owned enterprises. This state-driven, top-down trajectory of ‘CSR with Chinese characteristics’ has had mixed effects to date. Focusing on transnational labour standards in the context of the Belt and Road, this paper examines the ways in which regulatory factors emerging from the home country (China) could influence its MNEs to ‘take the high road’ or ‘race to the bottom’ in their overseas operations.

About the speaker

Dr Mimi Zou is the inaugural Fangda Fellow in Chinese Commercial Law at the University of Oxford. She obtained her Doctor of Philosophy in Law (PhD) and Bachelor of Civil Law degrees from the University of Oxford and graduated with first class honours degrees in Law, Economics, and Social Sciences (University Medal) from the University of Sydney. Mimi is a qualified solicitor in England and Wales and lawyer in New South Wales (Australia).

Prior to her current appointment, Mimi was the R. Randle Edwards Fellow at Columbia Law School (2017), Assistant Professor of Law at the Chinese University of Hong Kong (2014-2017), Junior Dean at St John's College, Oxford (2011-2014), Senior Researcher at Utrecht University (2010), and Senior Tutor at the University of Sydney Business School (2008-2009). She has also taught and researched at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, Tsinghua University, Zhejiang University, Southwest University of Political Science and Law, and the Australian National University.

Mimi’s research has won international awards, been cited in an Australian appellate court and several parliamentary inquiries, and covered by international media outlets such as The New York Times, BBC, The Guardian, Reuters, China Daily, and South China Morning Post. She is an editor of the Business and Human Rights Journal and the Hong Kong Law Journal.

She has worked in corporate law at King & Wood Mallesons and Linklaters in Sydney, Hong Kong, and London, as well as in a number of international organizations, government departments, and financial institutions in Asia-Pacific and Europe for over 15 years. In 2016, the Asia Society named Mimi as an ‘Asia 21 Young Leader', which recognizes the accomplishments of rising change-makers in the region. She was a former finalist in the Young Australian of the Year Awards.

About the Human Rights, Development and Global Justice Series

Our series aims to create an open, interdisciplinary academic platform for the discussion of issues related to human rights, development and global justice. Special attention is given to the global south, but not to the exclusion of other places.

We hope to generate exchanges furthering academic insight and creativity, to strengthen the School’s connections with scholars around the world, and to enrich undergraduate and postgraduate teaching curricula among the School’s wide offering of modules related to the jurisprudence of human rights, transnational human rights, and global justice more widely.

The events series is currently convened by Dr Eva Pils. It is supported by funding provided by The Dickson Poon School of Law. For information about other events in the series, please visit the King's College London website.

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SW1.17

Somerset House East Wing

Strand

London

WC2R 2LS

United Kingdom

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