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Suddenly, out of the blue, a debate about microfinance and child labour has erupted. Why?

Underage work caused by microloans is an uncomfortable topic for the microfinance sector, given the moral panic easily associated with child labour. It’s nearly impossible for the industry to publicly make dismissive or nuanced statements on the issue. David Roodman (self-styled “impertinent inquirer“) has now stepped up to the plate, publishing a thought-provoking short essay on his blog which critiques recent moves towards – or rather: rumours of some consideration being given to the idea of – enshrining policies against child labour in the microfinance sector’s transnational self-certification schemes.

Yes indeed, what are we going to do about it?

Photo: Children’s Bureau Centennial, Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic

Roodman assumes Hugh Sinclair (self-styled “microfinance heretic“) to be a driving force behind this. While I have my doubts about it being that simple, I do think that, while not a driving force, Sinclair could be a contributing factor.

Which, incidentally, brings me to my hypothesis about the actual issue of child labour. Is microfinance a driving force? Hell no. Could it be a countributing factor? Logically yes. Consider these two very simplified causal chains:

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In his recent paper, Tim Bartley (unpublished working paper, see references) argues that implementation of transnational standards, particularly in developing countries, often remains a black box. He starts by showing that some scholars imply that local conditions do not matter, while some others suggest that the effects can be read off programs’ principles and design. Using a case study of certification of forests and labor conditions in Indonesia, Bartley convincingly shows that neither is the case. Motivated by his contribution, I would like to reflect on why it is important to open up the black box of implementation. I focus on four aspects here: mechanisms, politics, implementation gap, and local actors. In part, I use forest certification as an example to illustrate how the study of the implementation of certification standards can enrich our knowledge of transnational governance. Read the rest of this entry »

The Book

Governance across borders: transnational fields and transversal themes. Leonhard Dobusch, Philip Mader and Sigrid Quack (eds.), 2013, epubli publishers.
November 2017
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