The Capabilities Approach: A Panacea for Labour Law’s Ills? Review of the Capability Approach to Labour Law

26 Pages Posted: 22 Nov 2019

See all articles by David Cabrelli

David Cabrelli

University of Edinburgh - School of Law

Date Written: November 20, 2019


In recent years, there has been a tendency to view the subject of labour law and its goals through the prism of philosophy, and political philosophy in particular. A veritable “cottage industry” has sprung up devoted to this task. In this paper, I analyse the arguments presented by various authors in a book recently published under the editorship of Professor Brian Langille on the ‘Capability Approach to Labour Law’. The book is an important contribution to labour law scholarship. I make the point that the capabilities approach – a theory belonging to political philosophy - is undoubtedly a useful instrument insofar as it enables labour lawyers to sell the claims and arguments that the subject is attempting to make, but that if it is presented as an ostensibly univocal foundation, it is unlikely to stack up. Instead, by abstracting its partial and pluralist bases from their source, capabilities can be reconceptualised as only one justification for particular labour laws, serving alongside many other political philosophies. In this way, a veritable patchwork quilt of different foundations for specific labour laws can be stitched together, and this extended book review then goes on to make some preliminary observations as to how such a fabric could be embroidered in a coherent and systematic manner.

Keywords: labour law, employment law, capabilities theory, political philosophy, personal human development, human development index, contract of employment, employment rights

Suggested Citation

Cabrelli, David Louis, The Capabilities Approach: A Panacea for Labour Law’s Ills? Review of the Capability Approach to Labour Law (November 20, 2019). Edinburgh School of Law Research Paper No. 2019/34. Available at SSRN: or

David Louis Cabrelli (Contact Author)

University of Edinburgh - School of Law ( email )

Old College
South Bridge
Edinburgh, EH8 9YL
United Kingdom

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