The Impact of IMF and World Bank Programs on Labor Rights


What effect do International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank programs have on collective labor rights? Labor rights advocacy networks and organized labor groups have long been critical of neoliberal policy prescriptions attached to loans by international financial institutions (IFIs), claiming that they harm the interests of workers. IFIs dispute these claims, noting that they work with relevant labor organizations and that many of their arrangements call for compliance with core labor standards. Yet very little research has been devoted to whether IFI programs affect labor laws and the actual labor practices of recipient countries. We argue that IFI programs undermine collective labor rights. Specifically, recommended policy reforms, as well as the broader signals connoted by participation in the programs, undermine labor organizations and the adoption of protective laws. To substantiate these claims, we use time-series cross-national data for a sample of 123 low- and middle-income countries for the years 1985 to 2002. Our findings suggest that programs from both IFIs are negatively and significantly related to labor rights, including laws designed to guarantee basic collective labor rights as well as the protection of these rights in practice.

Publication Title

Political Research Quarterly