Welcome! I am an Assistant Professor in the Economics Division at Columbia Business School.

My research primarily focuses on working conditions, labor rights, and firm productivity in developing countries. I am especially interested in how the intersection of global supply chains with local institutions affect firms’ and workers’ outcomes and how labor market institutions affect economic development.

I am affiliated to J-PAL, CEPR (organizational economics), the Chazen Institute for Global Business, and the Columbia Center for Development Economics and Policy (CDEP). I am also an International Growth Centre (IGC) lead academic for Bangladesh.

Curriculum Vitae (Link)
E-mail: l.boudreau@columbia.edu

Working Papers

Multinational enforcement of labor law: Experimental evidence on strengthening occupational safety and health (OSH) committees (2nd round revise and resubmit, Econometrica)

Previously titled: “Multinational enforcement of labor law: Experimental evidence from Bangladesh’s apparel sector”
Supplementary Materials
Coverage: Review by ProMarketVoxDev Talks Interview (Podcast); The Daily Star (Bangladesh)
Policy briefs: International Growth Centre Blog Post; Jerome A. Chazen Institute for Global Business Research Brief; J-PAL Summary

Annually, work-related mortality is responsible for 5-7% of all global deaths, and at least 1-in-9 workers experience non-fatal occupational accidents (ILO, 2019a,b). Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) committees are considered the key worker voice institution through which to improve workplace safety and health (ILO, 1981). I present evidence of OSH committees’ causal effects on workers and on factories. To do so, I collaborated with 29 multinational apparel buyers that committed to enforce a local mandate for OSH committees on their suppliers in Bangladesh. With the buyers, I implemented a nearly year-long field experiment with 84 supplier factories, randomly enforcing the mandate on half. The buyers’ intervention increased compliance with the OSH committee law. Exploiting the experimental variation in OSH committees’ strength, I find that stronger OSH committees had small, positive effects on objective measures of safety. These improvements did not come at a cost to workers in terms of wages or employment or to factories in terms of labor productivity. The effects on compliance, safety, and voice were largest for factories with better managerial practices. Factories with worse practices did not improve, and workers in these factories reported lower job satisfaction; this finding suggests complementarity between external enforcement and internal capacity in determining the efficacy of regulation.

We study the value of garbled survey methods as a tool to monitor harassment. Theory predicts that randomly switching reports that no harassment took place to reports that harassment did take place can improve information transmission by guaranteeing participants plausible deniability in the event they file an incriminating report. We evaluate this prediction in a phone-based survey of workers at apparel manufacturing plants in Bangladesh. We vary the survey method (direct or garbled), the degree of personally identifiable information (team id) associated with the report, as well as the degree of rapport built with respondents. We find that garbling increases reporting of sexual harassment by about 306%, physical harassment by 295%, and threatening behavior by 56%. We also find a negative effect of attaching team id to the report. We use the improved data to assess policy-relevant aspects of harassment: How prevalent is it? What share of managers is responsible for the misbehavior? How isolated are victims? How do harassment rates compare for men and women? Based on the answers to these questions, we draw implications for decision-makers.

Union Leaders: Experimental Evidence from Myanmar  – with Rocco Macchiavello, Virginia Minni, and Mari Tanaka

Supplementary Materials

Economic theory suggests that leaders may play key roles in enabling social movements to overcome collective action problems through a variety of distinct mechanisms. Empirical tests of these theories outside the lab are scarce due to both measurement and identification challenges. We conduct multiple field experiments to test theories of leadership in the context of Myanmar’s burgeoning labor union movement. We collaborate with a confederation of labor unions as it mobilizes garment workers in the run-up to a national minimum wage negotiation. We present three sets of results. First, we document that union leaders differ from union members and non-members along several traits that economists identify as relevant for political selection and that psychologists have associated with ability to influence collective outcomes, respectively. Second, we randomly embed leaders in group discussions on workers’ preferred and expected minimum wage levels. A leader’s presence in the group improves group engagement and increases workers’ consensus around the unions’ preferred minimum wage levels. Third, we conduct a mobilization experiment in which workers are invited to participate in an unannounced activity that features strategic complementarity in turnout. Leaders influence participation through both coordination and social pressure mechanisms rather than by simply motivating workers.

Migrants, experience, and working conditions in Bangladeshi Garment Factories– with Rachel Heath and Tyler McCormick (Accepted, Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization)

Working conditions in many large factories in low income countries are difficult, and many workers are internal migrants from rural areas. We examine the relationship between workers’ migration status and their labor market outcomes, using a household survey of garment workers in Bangladesh. Migrants are in firms with higher wages but worse working conditions, but as their careers progress, they have higher mobility than locals as they move towards firms with better conditions. These facts are consistent with a model in which migrants are poorly informed about working conditions upon beginning work but learn more as they gain experience in the industry.

Global Value Chains in Developing Countries: a Perspective from Coffee and Garments (invited for the Journal of Economic Perspectives) -with Julia Cajal-Grossi and Rocco Macchiavello

Non-Refereed Publications

VoxDevLit on International Trade, Co-Editor (Senior Editors David Atkin and Amit Khandelwhal)

Work in Progress

Escrow Mechanisms for Group-based Reporting: Evidence from Bangladesh’s Garments Sector – with Sylvain Chassang and Ada González-Torres (PAP accepted via pre-results review at the Journal of Development Economics)

Social Norms and Firm Productivity: Evidence from Bangladeshi Knitwear Factories – with Sakib Mahmood and Oren Reshef

The Roles of Information and Search Frictions in Determining Working Conditions in Bangladesh’s Apparel Sector – with Md. Shakil Ahmed and Rachel Heath