The Indian Journal of Labour Economics

, Volume 60, Issue 1, pp 81–91 | Cite as

The development rationale for international labour rights

  • Christoph Scherrer


The debate about international workers’ rights revolves primarily around enforcing standards in developing countries. Opponents of internationally enforced workers’ rights see them as obstacles to closing the industrial gap. They argue that better living and working conditions cannot be legislated but will be the natural outcome of industrialisation. The article challenges this reasoning by, first, looking at the empirical evidence concerning growth in exports and respect for core labour rights. Second, it shows that even neo-classical economics lends itself to theoretical justifications of international labour rights. Third, it argues that the question of competitiveness is not a North–South issue, but a South–South issue. Countries in the South are in competition with each other because they operate on a similar level of industrial development. The short-term costs associated with a strict adherence to core worker rights will put the respective country at a competitive disadvantage vis-à-vis its competitors. Therefore, developing countries are limited in their ability to raise labour standards on their own. This competitive situation, however, is the very reason why labour rights have to be negotiated internationally.


Labour rights Workers’ rights International labour organization Neo-institutional economics Neo-classical economics Global competition 


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Copyright information

© Indian Society of Labour Economics 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.International Center for Development and Decent Work, Steering Committee of the Global Labour UniversityUniversity of KasselKasselGermany

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