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14 September 2013 | Marino Donati
Upholding workplace standards and labour rules is easier when regulators form alliances with well-informed sources, according to research.
A study by the MIT Sloan School of Management in the US said difficulties in getting solid information about workplace problems is one of the factors which makes enforcing labour standards on pay, working conditions and contracts notoriously difficult.
Lack of funding for regulators and corruption in the enforcement process are other important factors. But the Pathways to Enforcement paper said regulators could overcome difficulties in their work by creating informal fact-finding alliances with advocacy groups and others who may have unique information about dubious labor practices.
The study, to be published in Industrial Relations and Labour Review, is based on case studies in Argentina where it was found that the level of enforcement was often related to information provided by local unions or advocacy groups.
Matthew Amengual, an assistant professor of management at the school who wrote the study, concluded although effective regulation was generally viewed as a process that should be free of political influence, it was often more common when underfunded regulators connected with outside groups.
The paper argued such working relationships are necessary because informal sweatshops are not necessarily obvious from the outside. Rather than trying to study electricity-usage records to deduce where off-the-books production occurs, inspectors can get information from the groups that has direct ties to workers, it suggested.
“This allowed them to find highly vulnerable workers they never would have been able to locate,” Amengual said.
But the study warned this should not be a reason to keep enforcement budgets small or be a replacement for strengthening bureaucracies.