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24 August 2015

Social dumping in Europe: decoding the discourse and elucidating the practices

As the crisis has become increasingly entrenched, the denunciation of social dumping has developed into a core feature of political discourse. The term is frequently heard in electoral campaigning, used particularly by populist parties of both left and right who employ it as a means of denouncing the abolition of frontiers and resulting free movement of workers within the European Union. But what are the facts and practices to which this rather vague concept purports to refer? Magdalena Bernaciak, a researcher at the ETUI, has edited a book that sets out to define the term and to delineate as objectively as possible the underlying realities.

In the first lines of her introduction to the book, the ETUI researcher defines social dumping as ‘the practice, undertaken by self-interested market participants, of undermining or evading existing social regulations with the aim of gaining a competitive advantage’.

She shows how the two major progressive thrusts of developing European integration over the last thirty years, namely, the creation of the single European market and the enlargement of the European Union to the south as well as the east, have afforded market actors plentiful opportunities to circumvent social legislation and labour standards whether national or transnational. The analysis tends to confirm the common perception according to which these developments have allowed downward pressure to be exerted on wages and working conditions throughout the EU to the point where social cohesion in Europe, and indeed the whole European integration project, have come under threat.

At the same time, and contrary to the simplistic perception that links the social dumping phenomenon to eastward enlargement, the book shows that its practices are in no way confined to actors coming from low-wage countries. ‘The role of high-wage country companies in exploiting the differences in socioeconomic conditions between domestic and foreign locations is rarely a subject of public debate’, observes the ETUI researcher; and she adds: ‘Large multinational companies have also found it easier to play off national governments against one another, making investments conditional on generous subsidies and labour market reforms, which has sometimes led to regulatory “races to the bottom”.’

The book offers a detailed analysis of the consequences of these strategies through contributions from academic researchers focussing on a range of sectors that include construction, automobile manufacturing, the steel industry, the retailing trade, data-processing, etc.

For more information: Bernaciak, M. (eds.) (2015) Market Expansion and Social Dumping in Europe, Routledge, 242 p.

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