CIPR | Center For Inter-American Policy & Research

Tulane University

Regulators without Borders? Labor Inspectors in Latin America and Beyond

On April of 2015, Andrew Schrank, the Oliver Watson Professor of Sociology and International Studies at Brown University, gave a lecture titled Regulators without Borders: Labor Inspectors in Latin American and Beyond.

The presentation explored the transnational networks that increasingly shape the capacity of the Latin American state. Dr. Schrank’s research builds on the work of Anne Marie Slaughter, whose 2004 book A New World Order identified an important trend within contemporary international relations: the emergence of transnational government networks. She demonstrates how important these networks are for shaping patterns of global governance, from the management of the global economy to combatting international crime and terrorism. Emphasizing the value of this work, Schrank points out that we still don’t know enough about who joins these networks, or who actually participates. Scholars like Jonathan Macey, who think about such networks from a rational choice perspective, argue that most regulatory officials should not want to cooperate across borders because of the reduction in national autonomy that results. The only condition under which Macey expects regulators to join transnational networks is when they are forced to, or when it enables them to pressure their domestic arenas for additional resources. Why do regulators go abroad? Do they join because they are already strong, or do they go abroad because they are weak? Are they motivated by the public interest, or by rational self-interest?

To answer these questions, Schrank examines the domain of labor regulation, a “least-likely” case of transnational cooperation. He focuses on Latin America, where countries share a similar model for inspection. His empirical work draws from interviews and data collection in the Dominican Republic, as well as an analysis of Latin American state membership in three transnational networks: the International Association of Labor Inspection, the Inter-American Network of Labor Administrators, and the Ibero-American Network of Labor Inspection. Using membership patterns in these three networks to test hypotheses regarding the behavior of state regulators, Schrank finds that labor inspectors who are independent civil service professionals are more likely to go abroad than labor inspectors who are political appointees. Those that do participate in transnational networks evidence greater levels of enforcement and compliance with international standards. His results have consequences for our theories regarding the origins of state development and capacity building, as well as our understanding of the costs of patronage and nepotism within the Latin American civil services.

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