January 08, 2007

Inspectors 'Round the World

Here's something I read offhand recently, and it sounded noteworthy, although I'll have to see if it's true. Apparently the labor inspection systems in Latin America and North America run on very different principles. In the United States, if an employer violates some safety standard, it gets fined or sanctioned by the government. Often, as with various coal mines in West Virginia, the employer simply prefers to pay the fine rather than fix the problem, and basically has the freedom to make that choice. But usually, employers adopt health and safety code to avoid the penalties.

In various Latin America countries, on the other hand, employers can't just pay a fine and let that be that. The business is required to fix the problem, and has to work out a plan, with the help of inspectors, to comply with the rules. Penalties are mainly used only in cases when employers are breaking the law repeatedly and flagrantly. Otherwise, inspectors act more like consultants—designing a plan to help the company put in place adequate labor protections without becoming uncompetitive.

Now, again, I'd like to research the details before commenting more, but it seems like a fairly intriguing model for the developing world, and I'd be curious if anyone else knows anything about this. I'm skeptical that greater flexibility on labor standards always benefits everyone, rather than merely providing a way for businesses to trample over health and safety standards in the name of "economic efficiency", and at any rate, many Latin American countries have all sorts of appalling labor-standard problems, so it's not like the model works wonderfully everywhere. (Many countries also have too few labor inspectors, and corruption is an issue.) But it struck me as something worth exploring further.
-- Brad Plumer 12:13 PM || ||