UC Irvine Journal of International, Transnational, and Comparative Law


In 2013, over a thousand workers were killed when the Rana Plaza factory building collapsed in Bangladesh, one housing several garment factories producing goods for global consumer markets. The collapse, and its consequences, exposed both the complex interweaving of national law, international standards, and private governance standards that together might be understood as a transnational legal order that has some effects on business behavior. This essay engages in a close examination of the Rana Plaza factory building collapse and its aftermath as the starting point for theorizing systemicity in the emerging interlocking systems of national, private and international governance orders. At one level, the governance architectures around the Rana Plaza building collapse suggests bits and pieces of governance and lawmaking that may point to the development of distinct governance orders that bump into each other serendipitously. Yet it is also possible to theorize systemicity from out of these bits, pieces, and bumps that may suggest the nature and forms that are emerging as a distinct class of transnational legal order. Starting from the governance response to the Rana Plaza building collapse facts, this article examines the way that the collective actions of states, international organizations, enterprises, civil society, and affected groups evidence a robust transnational legal order. That transnational order has a normative structure, operationalizes a legal process, and structures a framework within which international organizations, and state and non-state private actors strive toward building functional coherence within formally polycentric governance orders. Alternatively, Rana Plaza might suggest polycentric governance ordering or the new face of old hierarchical relations between developed and developing states. The essay concludes that the reality of the context in which governance arises may continue to defy a single robust theorization. Theories may be chasing facts, but the complexity of the legal ordering reflected in the arc of the story of the Rana Plaza factory building collapse also suggest that facts may soon turn on and reshape theory.