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For many years, trade unions have pressured international financial organizations such as the World Bank to better incorporate protections for workers. A recent development in this contestation was the World Bank’s 2009 announcement regarding its controversial “Employing Workers Index” in its widely circulated Doing Business report. Trade unions had argued that the index, which promoted flexible labor market policies, did not respect the international norm of worker protections, and urged the World Bank to change the index. As a result, the Doing Business Group pledged to reform the Employing Workers Index and to create a new index on protecting workers. While the 2009 announcement represents a victory for the trade union movement, and, on the surface, seems to suggest a new respect for workers’ rights at the World Bank, the effects of this reform remain unclear. Based on both the history of interactions between trade unions and the World Bank and the limited changes to the Doing Business 2010 report, this article expresses skepticism about whether the 2009 reform represents a significant shift in the World Bank’s neoliberal approach to labor. While the World Bank remains rhetorically committed both to promoting protections for workers and to collaborating with trade unions, its policies continue to promote labor flexibility. I argue that the World Bank’s abandonment of the index was a strategic choice prompted by pressure from unions in conjunction with a hostile political environment brought about by the recent financial crisis.


This article was published originally in Journal of Workplace Rights, Vol. 14(4) 481-501, 2009

doi: 10.2190/WR.14.4.f



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