Flying Under the Radar? The State and the Enforcement of Labour Laws in Brazil

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Over the past three decades, developing countries have deregulated, privatized and liberalized their economies. Paradoxically, they have also retained or even strengthened their labour laws and regulations. This compromise has created enormous political tension, which manifests itself as recurrent calls for either a rollback or a deepening of reforms. Few of these calls have been heeded, so the burden of reconciling the conflicting policies ends up being transferred to those public agents who enforce the regulations on the ground. To understand how these agents act, the latitude they have, the limits they face and the results they accomplish, this paper examines how labour inspectors and prosecutors intervened in four beleaguered industries in Brazil. It finds that enforcement agents often do more than just impose fines or teach infringers about the law. Rather, they use their discretion and legal powers to realign incentives, reshape interests and redistribute the risks, costs and benefits of compliance across a tailor-made assemblage of public, private and non-profit enterprises in a way that makes compliance easier for all involved. On a broader canvas, regulatory enforcement agents who perform this role can be characterized as the foot soldiers of a post-neoliberal or neo-developmental state.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)190-216
Number of pages27
JournalOxford Development Studies
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2014

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Development


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