American Political Science Review

Research Article

Trade-based Diffusion of Labor Rights: A Panel Study, 1986–2002


a1 University of Washington–Seattle

a2 University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

a3 University of Washington–Seattle


This article investigates the nature of the linkages between trade and labor rights in developing countries. Specifically, we hypothesize that a “California effect” serves to transmit superior labor standards from importing to exporting countries, in a manner similar to the transmission of environmental standards. We maintain that, all else being equal, the labor standards of a given country are influenced not by its overall level of trade openness, but by the labor standards of its trading partners. We evaluate our hypothesis using a panel of 90 developing countries over the period 1986–2002, and we separately examine the extent to which the labor laws and the actual labor practices of the countries are influenced by those of their export destinations. We find that strong legal protections of collective labor rights in a country's export destinations are associated with more stringent labor laws in the exporting country. This California effect finding is, however, weaker in the context of labor rights practices, highlighting the importance of distinguishing between formal legislation and actual implementation of labor rights.


c1 Brian Greenhill is Ph.D. candidate, Department of Political Science, University of Washington–Seattle, Box 353539, Seattle, WA 98195 (

c2 Layna Mosley is Associate Professor, Department of Political Science, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 361 Hamilton Hall, CB 3265, Chapel Hill, NC 27599-3265 (

c3 Aseem Prakash is Professor, Department of Political Science, University of Washington–Seattle, Gowen 39, Box 353530, Seattle, WA 98195-3530 (


The authors thank Xun Cao, Judith Goldstein, Andrew Grant, Stephan Haggard, Anna Leander, Nita Rudra, and Michael Ward, as well as the editors and anonymous reviewers of the APSR, for their helpful comments and suggestions. Earlier versions of this article were presented at the 2008 annual meetings of the American Political Science Association, the International Studies Association, and the International Political Economy Society. Aseem Prakash acknowledges financial support from the Center for International Business Education and Research, University of Washington. Replication files for the results presented in this article can be accessed at