This paper compares the way garment factory workers in South Africa, Swaziland and Lesotho experience the interaction between mechanisms for inspecting labour codes of conduct and government functions and trade unions. In South Africa and Swaziland there was little awareness of the potential impact of such instruments on working conditions. In Lesotho, where there is a high profile campaign, workers are more aware of the codes, but confusion over who visitors to factories are, and corporate whitewash, limit the impact of instruments. In all three countries workers perceived the impact of codes of conduct on labour rights as negligible. This differed between firms, with workers in firms supplying to the higher end of the South African market being more positive. Given the absence of coherent global governance of trade in the garment industry, codes of conduct will remain an inadequate response to the abuse of workers' rights, worldwide and in southern Africa.