Article by DPDF 2009 Revitalizing Development Studies and 2014 State Building and Governance in Retrospect and Prospect Research Director Andrew Schrank.
Policymakers in the Dominican Republic have responded to foreign pressure by rewriting their labor laws and revitalizing their labor ministry. What are the likely consequences? Is aggressive labor law enforcement more likely to protect vulnerable workers from abuse and exploitation or to undermine their ability to compete for labor-intensive employment in an unforgiving world economy? And what are the broader implications of the answer? I address these questions by analyzing qualitative as well as quantitative data on workplace regulators empowered by the Dominican Republic in response to trade-related labor standards imposed by the United States and find that they reconcile social protection with economic adjustment by simultaneously discouraging “low road” employment practices like informality, union-busting, and the exploitation of child labor, and encouraging “high road” alternatives that link firms, farms, and families, on the one hand, to public educational, training, and financial institutions, on the other. The result is a potentially inclusive alternative to the repressive industrial relations regime that fueled export-led development – and the East Asian “miracle” in particular – in the late twentieth century.