Governance by Contract

Prof. Jean-Christophe Graz

This study considers the question of the relationship between private labour regulation and workers’ capacity to take collective action through the lens of an empirical study of the International Finance Corporation’s (IFC) ‘performance standards’ system of social and environmental conditionality. The study covered some 150 IFC client businesses in four world regions, drawing on data made public by the IFC as well as the results of a dedicated field survey that gathered information directly from workers, managers and union representatives.

The study found that the application of the performance standards system has had remarkably little impact on union membership and social dialogue. In those few cases where change could be causally linked to the standards, the effect depended on the presence of workers’ organizations that already had the capacity to take effective action on behalf of their members. The study also uncovered some prima facie evidence of breaches of freedom of association rights occurring with no reaction from IFC. The study concludes that the lack of impact is largely due to the private contractual structure that supposedly guarantees standards compliance.

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