ILO is a specialized agency of the United Nations

270th Session
Geneva, November 1997

Working Party on the Social Dimensions of the Liberalization of International trade



Continuation of discussions concerning
the programme of work and mandate
of the Working Party

(d) Core labour standards and economic
development in developing countries:
A preliminary research framework


1. The Programme and Budget for 1998-99 includes an examination of the relationship between core labour standards and economic development in developing countries. At the 268th Session (March 1997) of the Governing Body, the Working Party on the Social Dimensions of the Liberalization of International Trade requested an elaboration of the intended research. The aim of the study is to produce output that is of practical use to ILO constituents. It will focus on policy-related issues and take into account differences in economic, institutional and social structures. In this research, a broad concept of development is proposed, with trade considered as one aspect of development. The principal output of the research will be a report to be compiled at the end of 1999.

2. Since the study forms part of the Programme and Budget for 1998-99, detailed methodology has not yet been prepared. This will be done towards the end of 1997 or at the beginning of 1998, once the implementation of the 1996-97 work programme has been largely completed.

3. At this stage, the following working hypothesis for the study can be used. Core labour standards relate to freedom of association and collective bargaining, the prohibition of forced labour, of child labour and non-discrimination in employment. As fundamental human rights, these core labour standards need no economic rationale and can be distinguished from technical standards relating to occupational safety and health, minimum wages and social protection, etc., which can be regarded as "development-dependent". The critical question on core labour standards is not whether they are the outcome of development, but how they affect economic efficiency and sustainable development. A better understanding of how different development strategies and country-specific economic and social realities affect the observance and implementation of core labour standards would help promote policies and programmes to enhance the positive relationship between these standards and development.

4. In terms of methodology, it is expected that the study will consist of four major components:

(a) Literature review

This would be aimed at learning lessons from history, including the experience of the industrialized countries, clarifying the issues to be examined and formulating hypotheses that can be tested.

(b) Cross-country statistical analysis

The research will have to tackle the data problems involved in measuring the implementation of core labour standards and development. Attempts at analysis have been seriously constrained because available information is sparse and incomplete, and reliable indicators of the enforcement of core standards are lacking. One basic difficulty is that some core labour standards involve qualitative or normative variables that cannot be measured unequivocally, and cannot therefore be easily compared over time or across countries.

(c) National case-studies

The national case-studies will examine:

(d) Industry case-studies

Data and resources permitting, a certain number of industry case-studies could be carried out.

The studies may include an industry catering mainly to the domestic market and relatively sheltered from external competition; a dynamic, high-technology, export-oriented industry; and an industry using child labour. Although core labour standards cannot be judged in purely micro-economic terms from the perspective of an individual enterprise or employer, it may be useful to carry out small surveys to determine how employers view the costs and benefits of standards in different types of industries. The case-studies will also examine how labour market institutions at the level of the industry or firm -- particularly trade unions -- help complement efforts by the State to set, implement and maintain labour standards.

Geneva, 4 November 1997.

Updated by VC. Approved by NdW. Last update: 26 January 2000.