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Research Questions

  1. What qualifications and personal characteristics are necessary for individual labor inspectors in developing countries to perform their jobs well?
  2. What human resource policies are important for creating an inspectorate with the necessary skills and enabling the inspectorate to function effectively?

This report examines the literature on labor inspection in developing countries in order to learn how human-resource practices in labor-enforcement agencies influence the performance of labor inspectorates in developing countries. As a supplement to a substantial literature about the advantages and disadvantages of alternative labor-law regimes and the effectiveness of alternative inspection strategies, this review highlights the state of knowledge about the conditions, competencies, and incentives needed for labor inspectors in developing countries to successfully carry out their work. This report focuses on two relatively narrow questions: What qualifications and personal characteristics are necessary for individual labor inspectors in developing countries to perform their jobs well, and what human-resource policies are important for creating an inspectorate with the necessary skills and enabling the inspectorate to function effectively?

Key Findings

Inspectorate Practices Vary Widely

  • Some countries require new inspectors to have a specified minimum level of education; education in specific content areas, such as law or engineering; or threshold physical or personal characteristics.
  • Some countries do or should require inspectors to be generalists, while others need more-specialized personnel.
  • Initial training for new inspectors must cover a huge range of content. Amounts of ongoing training vary.
  • Inadequate staffing and poor work conditions contribute to high turnover among inspectors.
  • Measuring inspectors' performance can be difficult because the most easily measured metric is number of inspections performed, which might not be the most important metric.
  • Corruption, often because of bribery, is difficult to track and even harder to combat.

Recommendations

  • The argument for hiring generalists seems strongest in the poorest countries. In those countries, technical knowledge is rare, and transportation difficulties are likely to loom especially large. Even for middle-income countries, the choice should depend as well on the likely overlap of occupational safety and health hazards and other labor-standard violations.
  • Creation and maintenance of an internationally comparable taxonomy of labor inspectorate HR practices may be a useful first step toward comparative research on the effectiveness of different practices, but the lack of reliable outcome measures in many settings poses a more formidable barrier to evaluating best practices.
  • Studies in developing countries and outside the occupational safety and health context are needed to validate findings outside the United States.
  • The most useful research for developing countries may be qualitative, describing what inspectors actually do and why. For middle-income countries that have been improving their data systems, the U.S. Bureau of International Labor Affairs (ILAB) could aid those efforts so that researchers could use them to better understand, at least, the relationship between inspection activities and output measures.
  • Efforts to improve labor inspection will probably proceed apace with broader efforts to improve the civil service in developing countries. Therefore, ILAB should attempt to participate in those efforts to take advantage of ideas with applicability to labor inspection.

This research was undertaken within RAND Labor and Population.

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