International Labour Law as a Global Public Good: Enhancing Labour Regulation in an Era of Globalisation

Change log
Menashe, Maayan 

This research draws on institutional-economic theory, evolutionary and epistemic game theory and systems theory, to better understand the function of international labour law, and to show how it can be improved. Applying this economic-systemic perspective, the study develops the argument that international labour law should be perceived as a global public good. Through this characterisation, the dissertation uncovers mechanisms to support a resilient cooperative regime of international labour standards. Ultimately, it supports the notion that it is possible to effectively promote labour regulation in a globalised world, and to do so in a way which is incentive-compatible.

Pursuing a novel game theoretical analysis to the ‘race to the bottom’ problem in international labour law, the dissertation outlines two institutional solutions overlooked by existing studies. First, it explores the role of international trade as facilitator of ‘indeterminate play’ between countries, highlighting its significance for incentivising countries towards labour regulation. Second, international labour law is characterised as a potential ‘correlating device’, facilitating the coordination of labour regulation around mutually beneficial cooperative strategies. Ultimately, these findings depart with existing perspectives on the international trade/labour nexus revealing that the two can be complementary in fostering global cooperation on labour regulation, and in supporting economic development.

Building on this analysis, the study argues that in light of its role as a ‘correlating device’, international labour law corresponds to a ‘global public good’ (i.e., it provides a benefit that is non-rivalrous in consumption and non-excludable). The public good characterisation sheds light on the ability of the current global governance regime to supply this good (i.e., cooperation over labour regulation) and mitigate the consequent ‘free-rider’ phenomenon (i.e., labour rights violations).

This theoretical framework is tested through a comprehensive legal analysis of the labour rights situation in Qatar and the International Labour Organization’s (ILO) ongoing proceedings in the country, against the backdrop of its hosting of the 2022 World Cup event. The findings reveal that there is in practice real uncertainty on the content of international labour law norms, an ambiguity which destabilises cooperation, allowing states to free-ride. A solution is proposed based on the economic concept of linkage, showing how the ILO can facilitate effective linkages between reputational benefits and labour rights compliance. This sheds light on the capacity of the supervisory system to enforce international labour law through means which are beyond ‘hard’ or coercive measures. The analysis ultimately advances a refined understanding of the ILO’s role within the contemporary, increasingly polycentric, global labour regulatory sphere.

Deakin, Simon
Labour law, International labour law, International law, Global governance, Law and economics
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Awarding Institution
University of Cambridge
Cambridge Commonwealth, European & International Trust; Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge.