Private law institutions and core doctrines have a direct influence on how work relations and work itself are conceptualised, valued, and materially positioned, whether in a given society or at global level. The crucial role that private law has played in shaping recent developments in the world of work becomes most evident when we look at the growing dominance of global supply chains, and the recent surge of platform capitalism and financialisation. Also, somewhat sidelined for a few decades, questions of value extraction and evaluation of productive and reproductive activities have been more recently reignited by a series of successive crises.
At ACT, we explore how private law constitutes and sustains these emerging structures that lead to evermore fragmented, highly commodified, often precarious work. Globalisation, financialisation and digitalisation processes have, with the help of private law, brought about deep transformations in the structure and functions of organised economic activities. The accountability gap affecting labour conditions in supply chains (as highlighted by the Walmart case), and more recently, the wave of cancelled procurements in the global south as a consequence of lockdowns in the global north, underline the limits of traditional doctrines like unjustified enrichment, privity of contracts, and, relatedly, third party effects. In a context of ever-growing interconnectedness, other traditionally core areas like tort law and private international law - a core instrument of worker (hyper)mobility - are also ripe for reconsideration. New analytical lenses and updated normative frameworks are needed if we are to understand and affect the distribution of power and material and social resources in the emerging new modalities of work and work relations at both a local and global level.
Building on the recognition that private law affects the livelihoods of working people in fundamental ways, research at ACT seeks to understand how we could rethink private law so that it will lead to sustainable work and just labour relations for everyone across the globe.