Timothy Bartley

Professor of Sociology
PhD, University of Arizona
research interests:
  • Economic Inequality
  • Social Movements
  • Work and Organizations
  • Social Policy and Practice
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contact info:

office hours:

  • On sabbatical 2019-2020 academic year

mailing address:

  • Washington University
  • CB 1112
  • One Brookings Drive
  • St. Louis, MO 63130
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Tim Bartley’s research focuses on inequality and accountability in global production networks. He is especially interested in social movements and standards pertaining to labor rights and environmental justice.

His 2018 book, Rules without Rights: Land, Labor, and Private Authority in the Global Economy, (Oxford University Press) examines standards for decent work and sustainable development “on the ground” in Indonesia and China. Based on interviews with practitioners in each country, documentary evidence, and quantitative analyses, the book shows what corporate accountability and sustainability initiatives accomplish and why they so often fail. The book received the 2019 Harold and Margaret Sprout Award from the Environmental Studies section of the International Studies Association and an honorable mention from the Global and Transnational Sociology section of the American Sociological Association.

Before coming to Washington University in St. Louis, Bartley was on the faculty at Indiana University and Ohio State University. He has published articles on social movements, regulation, and transnational fields in the American Sociological Review, American Journal of Sociology, Social Forces, Social Problems, the Socio-Economic Review, and other journals.

In a new line of research, he is examining the various dimensions of inequality within, between, and around global production networks. This includes analyses of international trade and rising inequality in poor and middle-income countries; analyses of exploitation and gendered work in supply chains for apparel, electronics, food, home furnishings, and other products; and a survey experiment to gauge perceptions of corporate accountability. In a related line of research, he is examining legality/illegality as a global regulatory frame, with particular attention to illegal fishing, wage theft, and land grabs. In another new project, he has begun to examine the social implications of predictive analytics and Artificial Intelligence, with particular attention to corporate accountability in “surveillance capitalism.”

Rules without Rights: Land, Labor, and Private Authority in the Global Economy

Rules without Rights: Land, Labor, and Private Authority in the Global Economy

Activists have exposed startling forms of labor exploitation and environmental degradation in global industries, leading many large retailers and brands to adopt standards for fairness and sustainability. This book is about the idea that transnational corporations can push these standards through their global supply chains, and in effect, pull factories, forests, and farms out of their local contexts and up to global best practices. For many scholars and practitioners, this kind of private regulation and global standard-setting can provide an alternative to regulation by territorially-bound, gridlocked, or incapacitated nation states, potentially improving environments and working conditions around the world and protecting the rights of exploited workers, impoverished farmers, and marginalized communities. But can private, voluntary standards actually create meaningful forms of regulation? Are forests and factories around the world actually being made into sustainable ecosystems and decent workplaces? Can global norms remake local orders?

This book provides striking new answers by comparing the private regulation of land and labor in democratic and authoritarian settings. Case studies of sustainable forestry and fair labour standards in Indonesia and China show not only how transnational standards are implemented 'on the ground' but also how they are constrained and reconfigured by domestic governance. Combining rich multi-method analyses, a powerful comparative approach, and a new theory of private regulation, Rules without Rights reveals the contours and contradictions of transnational governance.

Looking behind the Label: Global Industries and the Conscientious Consumer

Looking behind the Label: Global Industries and the Conscientious Consumer

What does it mean when consumers "shop with a conscience" and choose products labeled as fair or sustainable? Does this translate into meaningful changes in global production processes? To what extent are voluntary standards implemented and enforced, and can they really govern global industries? Looking behind the Label presents an informative introduction to global production and ethical consumption, tracing the links between consumers' choices and the practices of multinational producers and retailers. Case studies of several types of products―wood and paper, food, apparel and footwear, and electronics―are used to reveal what lies behind voluntary rules and to critique predominant assumptions about ethical consumption as a form of political expression.