From Contracts to Compliance? An Early Look at Implementation Under China's New Labor Legislation

75 Pages Posted: 11 Jul 2009 Last revised: 14 Aug 2010

See all articles by Virginia E. Harper Ho

Virginia E. Harper Ho

City University of Hong Kong (CityU) - School of Law; European Corporate Governance Institute

Date Written: September 20, 2009


In 2008, three new primary labor laws took effect in China that together represent the first major retooling of its labor legislation in fifteen years: the Labor Contract Law, the Labor Dispute Mediation and Arbitration Law, and the Employment Promotion Law. The new laws have attracted widespread attention from the international business community, labor advocates, and observers of China's ongoing legal reforms. However, whether the legislation can overcome and resolve fundamental implementation barriers remains largely the subject of speculation and debate. This Article offers a preliminary answer.

Drawing on the literature on corporate compliance and regulatory policy, it first describes the institutions and processes for enforcing Chinese labor law and identifies current implementation challenges. It then introduces the three laws and considers the extent to which, taken together, they are likely to motivate broader employer compliance in light of these constraints. Using implementation of the Labor Contract Law’s written contract requirement as a case study, the Article then presents the results of field research in Guangdong Province as an early indication of the laws' impact on public policy priorities, employer practices, and legal mobilization. It concludes by commenting on the power and limits of regulatory change and suggesting directions for further reforms that might motivate a sustained transformation of workplace practices.

Keywords: China, labor law, implementation, compliance, employer, employee, worker, labor contract, labor inspection, union, mobilization

Suggested Citation

Harper Ho, Virginia E., From Contracts to Compliance? An Early Look at Implementation Under China's New Labor Legislation (September 20, 2009). Columbia Journal of Asian Law, Vol. 23, No. 1, p. 34, 2009, Available at SSRN:

Virginia E. Harper Ho (Contact Author)

City University of Hong Kong (CityU) - School of Law ( email )

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Hong Kong

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