Promoting sustainable compliance: Styles of labour inspection and compliance outcomes in Brazil


  • This article is based on research and findings that grew out of an MIT project started in mid-2006, entitled “The rule of law, economic development, and the modernization of the State in Brazil: Lessons from existing experience for policy and practice”, supervised by Judith Tendler (principal investigator) and funded by the Brasilia offices of the United Kingdom's Department for International Development (DFID) and the World Bank. The funders are not responsible for, or may not necessarily be in agreement with, the emphases that appear here. I would like to thank Judith Tendler, Susan Silbey, Andrew Schrank, Bish Sanyal, Seth Pipkin, Michael Piore, Salo Coslovisky, Matt Amengual and Mansueto Almeida for comments and suggestions on previous versions of this article. I am also grateful for the revisions suggested by the editors of the International Labour Review. Finally, I would also like to thank all the people who graciously agreed to be interviewed for this research. This work could never have been accomplished without their generosity.

  • Responsibility for opinions expressed in signed articles rests solely with their authors and publication does not constitute an endorsement by the ILO.


Can workers’ rights and social protections be reconciled with firms’ competitiveness and productivity? In contrast to current development policy advice, which emphasizes the “flexibilization” of labour laws, this article contributes to an ongoing debate about styles of inspection by exploring the causal links between different regulatory practices and economic development and compliance outcomes. Findings from subnational comparisons in Brazil challenge established theories about the behaviours of firms and regulatory agencies, and indicate that labour inspectors have been able to promote sustainable compliance (legal and technical solutions linking up workers' rights with firms’ performance) by combining punitive and pedagogical inspection practices.