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Core labour standards and exports

  • Siroën, Jean-Marc

Core labour standards defined by the ILO in 1998 are universal, but applied very differently across countries. Compliance is much higher in high income countries. However, the causality between improved labour standards and economic growth remains a controversial issue. Export-led growth strategies might encourage developing countries to curb the process of standards improvement. In this way, they can raise the volume of their unskilled labour endowments (child and/or forced labour) in order to strengthen their comparative advantage over compliant countries and pursue "social dumping" strategies, which aim more directly at increasing competitiveness. We use a gravity model to assess the trade impact of curbing the level of compliance with core labour standards, distinguishing the effects on bilateral trade (geographical specialization) from the multilateral effects on all exports and imports. We show that, other things being equal, countries that meet the labour standards tend to trade more with each other, while non-compliant countries tend to trade more with compliant countries. These effects are identified mainly with respect to child labour and freedom of association. All other things being equal, countries that meet the labour standards tend to be less open than non-compliant countries, but differently depending on the standards, with a non-linear relationship for some of them. Less compliant countries, frequently the poorest ones, may simultaneously step up their trade and labour standards. For median countries, mainly the emerging countries, the level of compliance with labour standards is “optimal” from a mercantilist point of view. For the most compliant countries, the developed ones, their strict compliance with labour standards implies a trade shortfall.

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Paper provided by Paris Dauphine University in its series Economics Papers from University Paris Dauphine with number 123456789/10660.

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Date of creation: Nov 2012
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Publication status: Published in DIAL Document de travail, 2012
Handle: RePEc:dau:papers:123456789/10660
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