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The >AD and Welfare Reform in South Africa, Latin

America, and the Caribbean, -
Jeremy Seekings

From its foundation in , the International Labour Organization (>AD)

sought to promote minimum standards in the regulation of employment
and social welfare not only in the more industrialized countries of Europe
and North America, but also in the colonies and independent states of the
global “South”. Whilst the regulation of labour and public provision of
welfare lagged far behind regulation in most of Europe and even North
America, a series of countries in the South began to introduce reforms
in the s, s, and s. The >AD sought to promote and shape these
reforms, through its annual International Labour Conferences [hereafter,
“>A8(s)”], the conventions and recommendations adopted at them, and
the documents produced by the International Labour Office [hereafter,
The literature on welfare-state-building tends to concentrate entirely
on political, social, and economic conditions inside countries. In build-
ing – and later rebuilding – welfare states, policy-makers typically drew
on ideas (including norms and beliefs rooted in religion) from both home
and abroad. Prominent among the foreign “ideas” were the actual models
of welfare states constructed (or proposed) elsewhere and hence available
for replication (perhaps with adjustments). Ideas might only be taken up if
they are congruent with the interests of politically powerful elites or par-
ties and are actionable within existing state institutions. But, at the same
time, parties and elites typically act only when appealing ideas are avail-
able; “structures do not come with an instruction sheet”.
The >AD saw itself as providing such “instruction sheets” and as having
a major effect on promoting reforms. In , in the midst of the intro-

 Hall, The Political Power of Economic Ideas.

 Blyth, Great Transformations.

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duction and expansion of social insurance schemes both inside and outside
Europe, the >AD director reported:

It may be said without exaggeration that the [International Labour] Organi-

zation has had some part in all the great reforms recently accomplished and
is sharing in the preparation of most of the important Bills at present being
elaborated. Governments, reporters of Parliamentary commissions, employ-
ers’ organizations, trade unions, insurance institutions and their national and
international unions, and medical associations take into consideration the
international Conventions, utilize and quote from the Office’s publications,
and seek information and sometimes even advice from the Office.

Similar claims have been made often in subsequent >AD publications. In a

retrospective paper published as part of the >AD’s fiftieth anniversary cel-
ebrations in , Guy Perrin (an adviser to the Office’s Social Security
Branch) wrote that:

Conventions and Recommendations relating to social insurance […] were

largely instrumental in establishing the essential characteristics of this type
of protection and in determining the pattern of its subsequent development;
the spread of both social insurance between the wars and “social security”
after  were “largely the result of legislative example and the inf luence of
the standards laid down by the International Labour Organization”.

In this chapter, I offer a more cautious assessment with respect to the

period up to about . The >AD’s activities certainly promoted knowl-
edge of social welfare reforms, and probably had a considerable impact on
technocrats in a range of settings. But the >AD played a limited role in the
more conspicuous cases of welfare reform in Latin America, Africa, and
the Caribbean during this period. Not only was the >AD not the only source
of ideas about welfare reform, but many of the ideas promoted by the >AD
(as well as many of those from other sources) presumed a local political
context similar to that of the more industrialized countries – which was
simply not the case across most of the global South. The >AD’s major inf lu-
ence, which was to be ref lected more widely in legislative reforms after the

 >AD, Report of the Director (RoD ), Record of Proceedings (RoP ), International Labour Con-
ference (>A8), Session  (Geneva, ), p. .
 Perrin, “Ref lections on Fifty Years of Social Security”, pp. -, -.

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Second World War, was in promoting a particular model of welfare reform

focused on social insurance.

The Application of ILO Social Welfare Conventions

Standard-setting through conventions (and recommendations) constituted

the primary mechanism through which the >AD sought to shape policy-
making in the s and s, across not only the more industrialized
countries of Europe and North America but also the less industrialized
countries of the global South. Conventions designed for the conditions
pertaining in north-west Europe and North America were rarely easily
applied in the very different conditions of the global South. The >AD was
compelled to engage with challenges posed by “some ‘special’ countries in
Asia” [hereafter, “special countries”], “sparsely-populated” countries such
as South Africa and Argentina, and European colonies across Africa, the
Caribbean, and elsewhere. The inappropriateness of most >A8 conventions
in the global South stemmed from the combination of the >AD’s preoccu-
pation with worker-oriented systems of social insurance and the limited
extent of formal wage employment in most Southern societies. The result
was that the >A8’s social welfare conventions were rarely ratified and even
more rarely applied across most of the global South.
The >AD’s initial engagement with social welfare issues was concentrated
in three short periods: -, -, and -. The first period
culminated in the adoption of two conventions and a recommendation
on sickness insurance in . The second culminated in  in six con-
ventions on compulsory insurance for industrial and agricultural work-
ers covering old-age, invalidity, widows, and orphans, and an additional
convention and recommendation covering benefits or allowances to the
involuntarily unemployed in . The third period culminated in recom-
mendations concerning income security and social policy in dependent
territories adopted in , alongside the Philadelphia Declaration.
Until the s, social welfare meant (for the >AD) social insurance, based
on the contributory, German model. Waged workers in formal employ-
ment would contribute to funds whilst working, and be eligible for ben-
efits in the event of incapacity, retirement, and (perhaps) unemployment.
Contributions and benefits were usually linked to earnings, and benefits

 Seekings, “The >AD and Social Protection in the Global South”.

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were sometimes subsidized by the state. Focused on workers, social insur-

ance schemes were often organized along corporatist lines. In , the
>AD director reported that “the principle of social insurance as a corollary
of the wage-earning system has been internationally accepted”, attribut-
ing this in part to the >AD itself: “[…] despite national idiosyncrasies and
preferences, the systems of legislation are following the main principles
embodied in the decisions of the [International Labour] Conference”.
The >AD recognized explicitly that there were alternatives, but considered
the German model superior to all others and universally appropriate. >AD
officials referred disparagingly to the alternative model of tax-financed
social assistance as little more than “social relief ”, which would inevita-
bly be replaced over time by social insurance. “The principle that every
wage-earner should be protected by insurance is gaining ground not only
in European countries but also in a great number of overseas countries […]
In less than fifty years social insurance has conquered Europe and is well
on the way to conquering the world”.
Social insurance was certainly not as hegemonic as the >AD tended to
imply. Defenders of social assistance – primarily from the Scandinavian
countries and Great Britain – secured the inclusion of clauses accommodat-
ing alternatives to social insurance in the  conventions. Social assistance
programmes had originally focused on paupers, but in the early twentieth
century were extended and reconceptualized in terms of the rights of citi-
zens – in contrast to the emphasis on workers in the German model. In
the s, the >AD embraced what it called the “doctrine” of “social secu-
rity”, encompassing both social insurance and social assistance. Neither
was seen as inherently inferior to the other. Indeed, if “social assistance is
a progression from poor relief in the direction of social insurance”, as the
advocates of the German model had argued earlier, then “social insurance
is a progression from private insurance in the direction of social assistance”.
In the exemplary cases of New Zealand and Denmark, “we can no longer
say whether social assistance or social insurance predominates, but only
that they possess a national system of social security”. The  Phila-
delphia Declaration committed the >AD to “the extension of social secu-
rity measures to provide a basic income to all in need of such protection
and comprehensive medical care”, as part of a broad strategy to raise the
standard of living. But this discursive accommodation of social assistance

 >AD, RoD, >A8,  (), p. .

 >AD, The International Labour Organization: The First Decade, p. .
 >AD, Approaches to Social Security: An International Survey, pp. -.

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was not manifested in conventions, and the recommendations adopted in

 included a diluted endorsement of social assistance. In practice, the
Office continued to emphasize social insurance. The >AD’s inherent focus
on workers rather than either the poor or citizens, and its institutional pref-
erence for corporatist collaboration between employers, workers, and the
state, ensured a strong bias towards social insurance.
From the outset the >AD imagined that conventions would have univer-
sal relevance. Indeed, as its officials regularly acknowledged, the >AD was
“intended” inter alia “to protect and help the more socially advanced coun-
tries against the ‘unfair competition of backward countries’” – which was
an important factor in employers’ and some governments’ participation in
the >AD. But there were obvious difficulties in extending to less industrial-
ized countries the standards considered minimal in the more industrialized
countries. Article  (paragraph ) of Part M>>> of the Treaty of Versailles
– which provided for the establishment of the >AD – explicitly acknowl-
edged the need to allow “modifications” to conventions for “those coun-
tries in which climatic conditions, the imperfect development of industrial
organization, or other special circumstances make the industrial conditions
substantially different”. The >AD’s very first convention (on the eight-
hour working day in industry) contained articles that specifically excluded
China, Persia, and Siam (for the time being) and qualified the application
of the convention in Japan and India (as well as Greece and Romania).
The >AD was initially most concerned with the application of conven-
tions to what it called the special countries of South and East Asia (coun-
tries such as China and India that were founding members of the >AD and
had substantial industrial working classes but could not comply with the
standards set for the >AD’s European and North American members). In
, for example, >AD Director Albert Thomas reported that:

Whilst the stage of industrial organization reached in these countries is not

such as to permit of the automatic adaptation to their economic and social
conditions of Conventions and Recommendations the provisions of which
are designed more particularly to meet the needs of great industrial States,
the International Labour Organization cannot neglect the possibilities of

 See Seekings, “The >AD and Social Protection in the Global South”.
 >AD, RoD, >A8,  (Geneva, ), p. .
 >AD, The International Labour Organization: The First Decade, p. .
 Articles -; see Lowe, The International Protection of Labor, pp. -.

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progress in these States and must seek means of promoting the enactment of
legislation affording increased protection to their workers.

The Office conducted an enquiry into the special countries of South and
East Asia in -.
In the late s, the focus of concern over applying conventions in less
industrialized settings shifted from the special countries of Asia to a dif-
ferent set of “sparsely-populated” countries. In , the generalized limi-
tation in Article  (of the Treaty of Versailles) was first invoked with
respect to the two conventions on sickness insurance. The draft conven-
tions specified that: “[i]t shall be open to States which comprise large and
very thinly populated areas not to apply the Convention in districts where,
by reason of the small density and wide dispersion of the population and
the inadequacy of the means of communication, the organization of sick-
ness insurance, in accordance with the Convention, is impossible”. The
accompanying recommendation elaborated:

States which, by reason of the small density of their population or of the

inadequacy of the means of communication, cannot organize sickness insur-
ance in certain parts of their territory should: (a) Establish in such parts
of their territory a sanitary service adequate to the local conditions; (b)
Examine periodically whether the conditions required for the introduction
of compulsory sickness insurance in the parts of their territory previously
excepted from the compulsory scheme are fulfilled.

The problems of “sparsely-populated” countries were raised primarily by

settler states (Argentina, South Africa, and Australia) together with Spain.
These countries’ delegates did not want to be associated with the spe-
cial Asian countries. Rather, they were countries which sought to emulate
European standards in some respects but not others. For South Africa, the
sparsely-populated argument seems to have been, at least in part, a euphe-
mism for racial discrimination, in that >AD standards should be applied to
workers of European origin but not “native” or African workers (see further
Section  below). The >A8 resolved to investigate the problems of sparsely-
populated states (although it apparently failed to complete its enquiry).

 >AD, RoD, >A8,  (Geneva, ), p. .

 Lowe, International Protection of Labor, p. lv.
 Ibid., p. . [italics added]
 Ibid., p. .

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The specific problems faced by non-European countries seem to have

faded from view as the Great Depression gathered momentum but were
raised again in , by one of the Employer’s Group delegates on the
>AD Governing Body, William Gemmill. Gemmill, who worked for the
South African Chamber of [Gold] Mines, conducted a sustained campaign
against the European countries’ domination of the >AD. He singled out for
criticism the >AD convention on hours of work in the coal-mining industry,
which was “theoretically universal” but “in practice purely European” and
was so “irregular […] that no overseas country need ever place it before
its Parliament”. Thomas responded constructively but somewhat ideal-
istically, urging the delegates from countries like South Africa to work
more closely with the >AD in identifying the issues of greatest concern to
them, and recommending the improved distribution of >AD educational
materials. In , the conventions on insurance for old-age, invalid-
ity, and widows and orphans contained no geographical qualifications for
“sparsely-populated” states, but did list a set of categories of person who
could be exempted from the otherwise “compulsory” scheme.
The concerns raised about special and “sparsely-populated” countries
were atypical, however, in that most of the less industrialized countries
that were nominal members of the >AD were at best passive participants,
never raised objections in the >A8, did not ratify the conventions, and rarely
reported their “reasons” to the >AD (as they were supposed to do). From the
outset, a slight majority of the >AD’s members were from outside Europe
and North America. Only a handful of these countries – notably Argen-
tina, Chile, India, and South Africa – participated energetically. It was
Gemmill, then the representative of the South African employers, who
initiated a challenge to the >AD’s structure of governance that led, in ,
to constitutional changes requiring additional non-European representa-
tion on the >AD’s Governing Body. The general pattern of engagement
was ref lected in the pattern of ratification of >A8 conventions. Although
Europe accounted for just less than half of the members of the >AD by ,

 >AD, RoD, >A8,  (Geneva, ), p. .

 Ibid., pp. -.
 Lowe, International Protection of Labor, pp. -.
 Founding members included Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, China, Cuba, Colum-
bia, Ecuador, Guatemala, India, Japan, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Persia [Iran], Peru, Sal-
vador, Siam [Thailand], South Africa, Haiti, Panama, Uruguay and Venezuela. These
were joined by Australia, Honduras, Panama and Ethiopia (in ), the Dominican
Republic (), Mexico (), and Iraq and Turkey (); ibid., pp. xxxviii-lxxiii.
 Ibid., p. xlviii; Alcock, History of the International Labour Organisation, pp. -.

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it accounted for seven out of every eight convention ratifications. Eigh-

teen countries from Latin America, Africa, and Asia had failed to ratify a
single convention. Whilst the average >AD member-country in Europe had
ratified thirteen conventions, the average >AD member-country outside of
Europe had ratified just two.
The problem of ratification was especially acute for the social insurance
conventions. These conventions included various provisions or exemptions
in order to encourage broader ratification, but to little effect. The primary
convention on provision for old-age was ratified by only one non-Euro-
pean country (Chile) prior to . Some of the non-European countries
were ratifying other conventions. Prior to , Argentina ratified six-
teen conventions, Brazil five, South Africa eight, and India fourteen – but
none of these ratified any of the nine social welfare conventions. Chile
was the exception (see the section on Latin America below). When the
director of the Office sought to encourage Latin American participation
in the >AD in , he was compelled to emphasize that the >AD’s constitu-
tion allowed member states to opt out of provisions that were inappro-
priate given their conditions (such as low population density and limited
In , in Philadelphia, the >AD adopted a recommendation on income
security that set out a bold and ambitious agenda. Not only was this a
recommendation rather than a convention, but it was recognized at the
>A8 itself that the recommendation was of little relevance across the global
South. Government delegates from the Caribbean and Latin America
recorded their grave reservations about the applicability of the recommen-
dation. One delegate referred to the “impossibility” of applying it in his
own country. The >A8 passed a resolution calling for a special conference to
be held of the >AD’s Asian members, in which most of the proposals in the
recommendation were deemed “inapplicable”. The Philadelphia Dec-
laration itself explicitly committed the >AD to “the economic and social
advancement of the less developed regions of the world”, but in practice the

 >AD, The International Labour Organization: The First Decade, pp.  and -.
 I do not include workmen’s compensation in the list of social welfare conventions.
 >AD, “The Labour Conference of the American States which are Members of the
International Labour Organization”, pp. -.
 >AD, RoP, >A8,  (Montreal, ), pp. -. The conference was held in late ,
in Delhi; see >AD, Reports for the Preparatory Asian Regional Conference of the International
Labour Organization and Record of Proceedings of the Preparatory Asian Regional Conference
of the International Labour Organization.

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>AD remained unsure of how to do this at the same time as proposing sup-
posedly universal standards for the regulation of labour and social welfare.
One set of “countries” in the global South where the >AD’s social wel-
fare conventions were applicable, at least in principle, were the colonies of
member states that had ratified them. The application of conventions to
colonies was governed by Article  of Part M>>> of the Versailles Treaty.
Conventions, when ratified by member states, should be applied to their
colonies “(a) except where owing to the local conditions the convention
is inapplicable, or (b) subject to such modifications as may be necessary to
adapt the convention to local conditions”. >AD member states were required
“to notify to the International Labour Office the action taken in respect of
each of its colonies”.
The >AD’s approach to colonial labour was constrained by the prevalent
views among its officials and constituencies. It seems unlikely that >AD offi-
cials were altogether free of the paternalistic and racialized view of colonial
labour that was then prevalent within the corridors of European power. In
, the director of the >AD reported:

[…] it was hardly to be expected that the application of the Conventions

to colonies would be simultaneous with application in the mother country.
The problems to be considered and met are in most cases quite different and
present important variations from colony to colony. The labour employed is
frequently that of people belonging to an entirely different civilization from that
of the mother country, and the question of the application of a Convention
with or without modifications is one which has to be carefully considered in
relation to their customs and habits of life and work as well as to the general
economic conditions prevalent in the colony, protectorate or possession.

Many European workers, and especially workers of European origin in

South Africa, Australia, and much of Latin America, held much more rac-
ist views of black and Asian labour. No doubt there were delegates to the
>A8 who held these views, and articulated them privately if not publicly.
Indeed, the >AD’s mission in the s was widely understood as entail-
ing, in large part, the prevention of “unfair” low-wage (and low-standard)
competition to the high-wage countries of northern Europe. The >AD’s

 For debates on the adoption of this article, see Alcock, History of the International
Labour Organisation, p. .
 >AD, RoD, >A8,  (Geneva, ). [Italics added]

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concern with forced labour – which led to four conventions in the s –
was motivated by a mix of altruistic and self-interested universalism.
It took the changed circumstances of war and the prospect of post-war
reconstruction to force the >AD to address anew conditions in the vari-
ous colonies. In , the >A8 adopted, alongside the Philadelphia Declara-
tion and the Income Security Recommendation (G ), the Social Policy
in Dependent Territories Recommendation (G ) concerning minimum
standards thereof. Recognizing that its conventions had had little effect,
the >AD discussed how to move forward whilst remaining sensitive to local
conditions. Preconference documentation provided an impressive review,
noting the rapid political, social, and economic changes that had swept
across much of the world in the past decade, and which included, crucially,
the emergence of new understandings of the obligations of “trusteeship”.
The regulation of employment needed to be supplemented with a “general
programme of well-being and development”; the >AD should “contribute
positively, not merely to better labour laws and administration, but also to
policies that should provide for more wealth and for a better distribution
of wealth”. This approach was much broader even than the doctrine of
social security embraced in the Income Security Recommendation (G )
adopted at the same >A8.
A key factor in propelling the >AD towards a more encompassing approach
was its recognition that the regulation of formal employment – including
any social insurance for workers in formal employment – affected only a
small proportion of even the working population in most colonies. In colo-
nies where most people were:

[…] engaged in independent production, possessing in their lands, crops and

herds some safeguards against personal disaster, measures of social security,
by which the individual usually without such resources is granted a measure
of protection against the hazards of his life, must have a lower priority than
policies designed to raise the productivity and remuneration of the popula-
tion as a whole.

 >AD, Minimum Standards of Social Policy in Dependent Territories [distributed prior to >A8,
 ()], p. .
 >AD, Minimum Standards of Social Policy in Dependent Territories: Report V [tabled with the
fifth item on the Agenda at the same meeting, op. cit.], pp. -.

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Social insurance was of reduced importance in societies where illiteracy,

malnutrition, and poor health were widespread, and where few people
were involved in the money economy.
The  Recommendation (G ) comprised a set of “general princi-
ples” setting out a general commitment to economic development and social
progress, a set of “minimum standards”, and mechanisms for implementa-
tion and reporting. The minimum standards covered primarily employ-
ment, but extended also to land, health, housing, nutrition, and welfare
policies. The proposed wording of the Recommendation included many
qualifications, and the final wording of G  was much more restricted
even than the proposed wording. The final version of G  did stipulate that
“[s]uch arrangements as are practicable, having due regard to local condi-
tions, shall be made for the maintenance and treatment of the sick and for
the care of the aged, of the incapacitated and of the dependent survivors
of deceased persons”. But a proposed article stipulating that “compulsory
insurance” should be introduced “for the protection of employed persons
and their dependents in cases of sickness and maternity, old age, death of
the breadwinner and unemployment” (albeit subject to the caveat “as soon
as the necessary conditions for the operation of such insurance are pres-
ent”) was diluted to a mere commitment to workmen’s compensation.
However qualified, this G  (and a supplementary recommendation
passed the following year) marked a “decisive break” in the >AD’s view of
colonial labour, from the prevention of forced labour to its regulation as a
“normal part of life”. It also marked a break in a second important sense.
The >AD shifted from accommodating conditions in the less industrialized
countries through exemptions from ostensibly universally applicable con-
ventions to “recommending” lower (“minimum”) standards. The >AD also
shifted ground in a third sense, in that it recognized that the corporatist
model enshrined in its own constitution was inappropriate across much of
the world.

In modern production trade unions, employers’ associations, co-operative

societies and their federations are the chief units of labour collaboration. In
primitive production the expanded family, the clan, the village and the tribe
fill a similar role. As one form of production emerges into another, some of
the characteristics of both types of organization may become welded. […]

 Ibid., pp. -, and >AD, RoP, >A8, (), p. .
 Cooper, Decolonisation and African Society, p. .

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In dependent territories the development of indigenous institutions of social

responsibility, whether they be industrial organizations of a modern type or
traditional associations capable of adjusting themselves to new conditions, is
fundamental to the fulfillment by the colonial powers of trusteeship and to
the acquisition by the dependent community of responsibility and a capac-
ity for partnership.

In practice, the >AD continued to focus more on the needs of formally

employed labour – which generally comprised a relatively privileged
minority – rather than on the rural poor.
If the >AD was inf luencing national policy-making outside of its indus-
trial heartland, it was not doing so through the mechanism of the formal
ratification of its conventions by either colonial powers or independent
countries. >AD officials later admitted that they were surprised how difficult
it was to have conventions ratified. But, they averred, conventions often
had an indirect inf luence in that they – together with the other informa-
tion the Office collated and distributed – served to set the standard for
debates within countries

Through all the tangle of legal procedure, through all the confusion of com-
mittees, commissions and conferences, beneath all the apparent emptiness
of congress resolutions and the jumble of texts, we see with amazement the
desired reforms being adopted in every part of the world – slowly, it may be
but surely and sometimes even beyond our highest hopes.

As we shall see in the following sections, the indirect role played by the >AD
was indeed a significant factor in many parts of the South, although the >AD
itself also typically overstated its importance.

South Africa

South Africa was among the most ardent non-European participants in

the >AD. South African government, worker, and employer representatives
participated regularly in >A8s (with William Gemmill serving for years as
an employer’s delegate on the Governing Body). Documentation provided

 >AD, RoP, >A8, (), p. .

 Seekings, “The >AD and Social Protection in the Global South”.
 >AD, The International Labour Organization: The First Decade, p. .

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by the Office circulated widely inside South Africa. In general, however,

policy-making in South Africa was in advance of relevant >A8 conventions.
>AD inf luence appears to have been clearest in the case of sickness insurance,
but here the South African state chose not to implement the proposals con-
tained in >AD conventions and endorsed by successive South African official
committees of enquiry. The South African case illustrates how local pol-
icy-makers were exposed to diverse inf luences and did not simply replicate
the >AD’s favoured model of reform.
The South African delegates were all white, and assessed >AD conven-
tions primarily in terms of white South African workers – most of whom
were skilled or semi-skilled – rather than the unskilled black South African
workforce. In the early s, therefore, the South African delegates did not
want South Africa to be considered a “special country”. Indeed, the South
Africans tended to view the >AD as a mechanism for protecting “countries
with enlightened labour legislation” (such as South Africa, at least with
regard to white workers) from “competition of sweated labour”.

International agreement with regard to labour legislation prevents the keen-

ness of industrial competition from lowering the standard of living of the
working classes, helps to bring the protection accorded to the workers in the
more backward countries up to the level of the more advanced, and limits
the destructive hardship of industrial competition between States.

The South African delegates felt that they made a special contribution to
the debates on the Asian special countries because they posed the same
problem of “low-standard labour” internationally as South Africa faced
within its own borders (with respect to black labour). It was “in this field
that South Africa may be able to make her greatest contribution to the solu-
tion of perhaps the greatest and most difficult of the world’s problems”.
South Africa could provide especially “valuable advice” on “the applica-
tion of European ideas and European industrial methods to non-European
peoples”; “it may be that South Africa can do more for the Organization
than the Organization can do for South Africa”.

 South Africa, Report of the Government Delegate to the th Session of the International
Labour Conference (), p. .
 Ibid., p. .
 South Africa, Report by South African Government Delegates, th International Labour
Conference (), p. .

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Over the following twenty years, however, the >AD was to play a more
important role in shaping debates over social welfare reforms in South
Africa than vice-versa. In -, when the South African government
first began to consider reforms, the Office helped South African officials
to compile a memorandum setting out key features of many contributory
and non-contributory old-age pension schemes existing elsewhere. In ,
the chairperson and other members of an official Commission of Inquiry
into welfare policy (the Pienaar Commission) attended the >A8 to learn
about health insurance. The Commission acknowledged that the Office
had “been instrumental in collecting and collating much information”,
and the Office’s publications were “a mine of valuable information”. The
South African delegates to the  >A8 had received “a work in six vol-
umes on Compulsory Sickness Insurance which deals in great detail with
the schemes already in existence”, which had “been of great assistance to us
in our investigations”. The Office also advised the Pienaar Commission
on unemployment insurance (although this long preceded the relevant >AD
convention). This committee also drew heavily on a register of schemes
compiled by the Office. The >A8’s  convention on social insurance
encouraged some South African officials to reconsider contributory old-
age pensions. In , another committee of enquiry was appointed to re-
examine national health insurance.
South African officials consistently worried, however, that the expe-
riences of northern European countries with respect to social insurance
were of qualified relevance to “sparsely-populated” countries, including
South Africa. At the th >A8 in , the South African delegates had made
especially good use of “the opportunities of discussing Sickness Insurance”
with the representatives of countries “where the conditions were similar
to those of the Union, such as large areas sparsely populated and difficult
of access”. Whilst the South African delegates dissociated their coun-
try from the special countries, they were at the heart of the movement to
recognize the specific needs of “sparsely-populated” countries. This was

 South Africa, Second Report of the Commission on Old Age Pensions and National Insur-
ance, p. .
 South Africa, Third Report of the Commission on Old Age Pensions and National Insurance,
Appendix A.
 South Africa, Report of the Departmental Committee of Enquiry [into] National Health
Insurance, Appendix D.
 Correspondence between Commission of Pensions and Secretary for Finance, , Republic of
South Africa, National Archives (Pretoria), file KLC  E< /.
 South Africa, Second Report of the Commission on Old Age Pensions, p. .

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ref lected most emphatically in the report of the  committee re-exam-
ining health insurance, which dedicated an entire chapter to “The Problem
of the Sparsely Populated Countries”.

In the densely populated areas of Europe the introduction of a national

scheme of health insurance for employed people presents no very great dif-
ficulty; the insurance doctors are not required to travel great distances over
difficult country as in South Africa and other sparsely populated countries to
reach the insured people, and no special difficulties arise in the control and
supervision of sick pay, nor in the issue of certificates of incapacity for work.
A solution of the difficulties of introducing a health insurance scheme on the
usual lines for sparsely populated countries has not yet been reached.

The perceived inapplicability of the >AD-favoured social insurance model

was a major reason why the South African state failed to legislate much
in the way of social insurance. The Pienaar Commission recommended
– and the government subsequently introduced – a non-contributory, tax-
financed social assistance system of old-age pensions. The Commission’s
subsequent recommendations for health insurance – partially reiterated by
the later  committee – were ignored by successive South African gov-
ernments. The Pienaar Commission’s recommendation for unemployment
insurance did eventually lead to legislation in , but with very limited
and modest coverage. State-administered contributory old-age pensions
were never introduced. The >AD’s substantial inf luence on technocrats was
not ref lected in actual legislative reform. Overall, the South African case
appears to resemble those in Scandinavia: policy-makers were aware of,
and inf luenced by foreign models, but the design of local policy ref lected
local conditions and multiple external inf luences.
The primary reason for this was that successive South African govern-
ments saw the role of social welfare policy primarily in terms of the poor,
not of workers. In the s and into the s this entailed concern for poor
white people. “Pauperist” forms of social assistance, based on the  Brit-
ish model, were introduced to re-establish the racial income hierarchy.
In the early s, a temporary concern with poverty among the black

 South Africa, Report of the Departmental Committee of Enquiry [into] National Health
Insurance, p. .
 Kuhnle, “The Beginnings of the Nordic Welfare States”, pp. -.
 Seekings, “Not a Single White Person Should be Allowed to go Under”; “The Carn-
egie Commission and the Backlash Against Welfare State-Building in South Africa”.

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majority led to the partial deracialization of social assistance schemes. The

needs of white workers were addressed through polices and institutions
that raised their wages and reserved jobs for them, not through the Ger-
man model of social insurance. Technocrats valued the >AD’s advice in their
aspiration to be modern, but governments responded to domestic political
incentives and legislated a rather different set of reforms.

Latin America

Even the most industrialized countries in Latin America were less active in
the >AD than South Africa. Delegates from the major Latin American states
attended sessions of the >A8 fairly regularly during this period, but often
sent their diplomatic representatives in Europe rather than senior govern-
ment officials with any expertise in labour or related fields. The >AD itself
was also literally distant from the region, failing to establish any offices
there until the mid-s. Thus, whilst welfare reforms were introduced
and expanded, especially in the s, the >AD seems to have played little
or no role. Only in the s did the >AD begin to make a more concerted
effort to establish a presence in the region, and was therefore more inf lu-
ential on policy design in the countries that introduced reforms in the early
s (notably, Mexico and Costa Rica).
Uruguay, Chile, and Argentina each introduced social insurance pro-
grammes prior to their discussion within the >A8. The first Uruguayan
reforms were introduced prior even to the establishment of the >AD, and
were expanded in the s. In Chile, elaborate industrial relations and
social insurance systems were legislated under President Alessandri in 
– after a military intervention had cut through congressional paralysis.
The systems stratified the workforce in much the same way as the German
model, distinguishing between white- and blue-collar workers. Chil-
ean intellectuals were aware of foreign models of industrial relations, and
were presumably aware also of social welfare models. But, as Morris notes,
“none of the basic ideas” in the  reforms “were inspired directly by
the draft conventions and recommendations of the International Labour
Organization”. The >AD might have been “of some technical help” to

 Sagner, “Ageing and Social Policy in South Africa”; Seekings, “Visions, Hopes and
Views about the Future”.
 Borzutzky, Vital Connections.
 Morris, Elites, Intellectuals and Consensus, p. .

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the drafters, but “the general areas of legislation which they covered had
long since been marked out by Chilean scholars and politicians. Chile had
already borrowed from the socially advanced nations of the world and was,
in this sense, ahead of the >AD”. Though it suited both the >AD and Ales-
sandri to emphasize the connections between their projects, these connec-
tions were more imagined than real.
Similarly, in Argentina, key reforms preceded discussion at >A8s. Indeed,
when the >A8 first discussed social insurance, in , the Argentine employ-
ers’ delegate raised the need for education. In a speech, he explained why
this was important:

There is no question on the agenda of the present Conference which inter-

ests my country more than that of the general problems of social insurance.
The last law on social insurance which was adopted in Argentina has met
with very great opposition both from the workers and the employers. […]
Recently, about , persons in the capital of my country asked for the
abolition of this Act. The Act is very unpopular, and there is a very consider-
able movement for the amendment of it. I think that this all arises from the
fact that there is a lack of social education […].

Argentina’s grand plan for social insurance, legislated in , was abolished
as a consequence of the strong opposition of both worker’s organizations
(and communist organizations) and employers. The Argentine system
continued to develop in a piecemeal manner, in response to the elite’s need
to incorporate key sections of the working class. At about the same time,
Uruguay extended the coverage of its welfare system to include almost all
workers in industry and commerce, and to provide generous “mother’s
pensions”. If the >AD played any role in this, is seems to have escaped com-
ment in the more accessible studies. In Brazil, also, the first insurance
schemes also preceded discussion in the >A8.

 Ibid., pp. -.

 >AD, RoD, >A8 , (), p. .
 Lewis, “Social Insurance: Ideology and Policy in the Argentine”; Horowitz, “Cuando
las Elites y los Trabajadores Coincidieron”; >AD, RoD, >A8,  (), p. ; >AD, RoD, >A8,
 (), p. .
 See, in general, Rock, Politics in Argentina,  -  .
 Porzecanski, “Uruguay”; Filgueira, “A Century of Social Welfare in Uruguay:
Growth to the Limit of the Batllista Social State”; Ehrick, The Shield of the Weak.
 Malloy, The Politics of Social Security in Brazil.

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The first sign of change was when Vargas came to power in Brazil in 
with a programme that included a battery of social legislation inspired by
the >AD as well as by the Batllista programme in Uruguay and the Radicals’
programme in Argentina. It seems likely that some >AD experts worked
closely with some Brazilian reformers during the s.
In the mid-s, the >AD embarked on a more concerted effort in Latin
America. This seems to have been in part in response to the crisis facing
the >AD as a result of the rise of fascism across much of Europe. In late ,
the chief of the Social Insurance Section at the Office toured Latin Amer-
ica, and subsequently wrote two articles summarizing the state of social
insurance in the region. At the th session of the >A8, in , the del-
egates of the government of Chile invited the >AD to hold a regional con-
ference in Santiago the following year. The American countries that were
members of the >AD met formally, for the first time, in Santiago in Janu-
ary . Hostility to the >AD surfaced, notably from Mexico, Argentina,
and Uruguay, whose governments apparently regarded the conference as a
form of European colonialism, and even proposed the establishment of an
inter-American rival to the >AD. The conference appears to have assuaged
such hostility. The conference passed resolutions including ones embrac-
ing social insurance, notwithstanding the acknowledged problems caused
by scattered, heterogeneous, and non-industrial populations. Following
the conference, the >AD began to appoint American technical experts and
officials, and opened offices in Havana, Caracas, Montevideo, Santiago,
Bogota, and Lima. A second conference was held in Havana in ,
where three resolutions on social insurance were passed.
The growing concern with social welfare issues led to the formation of a
specialist body. First, in , an “Inter-American Committee to Promote
Social Security” was established at a meeting in Lima. Then, in September
, the first Inter-American Conference on Social Security was held in
Santiago, facilitated by then Chilean Minister of Health, Insurance, and
Social Assistance Salvador Allende. The purpose of the conference was
“to facilitate and develop the cooperation of the social security adminis-
trations and institutions”. Membership was open to government, specific

 Conniff, Urban Politics in Brazil, pp. -; Malloy, The Politics of Social Security in
 Tixier, “The Development of Social Insurance in Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Uru-
guay, Part I and Part >>”.
 >AD, “The Labour Conference of the American States”.
 Alcock, History of the International Labour Organisation, pp. -.

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social security funds, and so on, but not to corporate bodies of employers
and employees (as at the >A8s). The conference was attended by participants
from twenty-one countries. Following the conference, a Permanent Inter-
American Committee on Social Security was constituted in  and a sec-
retariat established. The >AD paid for most of the expenses of the Permanent
Committee, including the salary of the secretary-general. The Second Ses-
sion of the Inter-American Conference on Social Security was held in Rio
de Janeiro in November .
The “Declaration of Santiago de Chile” formed the first resolution of the
 conference. This declaration grandly proclaimed that “every man
and woman must be afforded physical and economic protection against
social and economic risks”, as well as calling for a “just social order”. It
included a specific commitment to social insurance to maintain income
in the events of ill health, disability, unemployment, old age, or prema-
ture death of a breadwinner. It also included an explicit commitment to
full employment and an equitable distribution of national income. The
Santiago conference agreed on three core items – the extension of social
insurance to all agricultural, self-employed, and domestic workers, and
the introduction of health and disability insurance. Given the member-
ship structure, it is hardly surprising that the emphasis was firmly on social
insurance. Social insurance should be extended to agricultural workers on
a phased basis, with health insurance extended first and retirement benefits
only provided much later once reserves had accumulated.
Insofar as the >AD (or, more precisely, the Office) had any inf luence in
Latin America, it was with respect to social insurance. Despite the occa-
sional mention of social assistance in Latin American documentation,
there is no evidence that the Office responded to the broader conception
of “social security” expressed in >AD documents between  and 
(and culminating in the Philadelphia Declaration and accompanying rec-
ommendations). Rather, the Office provided technical assistance on social
insurance specifically, first in Cuba () and Venezuela (, ), and
then very widely thereafter. The >AD played an especially important role in
providing specialist actuarial advice. In , the director of the Office
summarized these contacts in typically grandiose terms:

 >AD, Official Bulletin,  (), pp. -.

 See for example, >AD, Inter-American Committee on Social Security, pp. -.
 >AD, Director-General’s Report to the Third Conference of American States Members of the
International Labour Organization, Mexico City,  (Montreal, ), pp. -;
Alcock, History of the International Labour Organisation, ch. .

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Social insurance has unquestionably been the most fertile field of collabora-
tion between the countries of Latin America and the International Labour
Office. It may in fact be claimed that there is no system of social insurance
in these countries which has not been inspired by international labour Con-
ventions and Recommendations and which has not received technical assis-
tance from the >AD’s competent service.

Without detailed country-studies it is not possible to assess the overall

impact of the >AD, but studies of Mexico and Costa Rica provide only
qualified support for the >AD’s interpretation. In Mexico, >AD technical assis-
tance became available at just the moment that the Mexican state sought to
incorporate organized labour into corporatist relationships. State officials
produced plans for a social security system, then met with >AD advisers who
revised them, and then the state brought in selected labour leaders. Some
groups of workers objected: workers with existing privileges worried about
seeing these eroded, critics of the compliant labour leaders saw an oppor-
tunity for political gain, and ordinary workers worried about the cost of
contributions. The state responded by recognizing the privileges of the
labour aristocrats in key sectors, offering concessions, and then repressing
opposition. Similarly, advice from the Office was important in the con-
current reforms “from above” in Costa Rica. In both cases, the appeal of
the >AD “model” ref lected local conditions, with local elites seeking corpo-
ratist mechanisms for incorporating labour, and possibly electoral advan-
tages. Costa Rica’s  reforms were realized with the actuarial assistance
of the >AD, but the reforming president, Calderón, was inspired by progres-
sive Catholic doctrines rather than the >AD, and dispatched his advisor (and
representative at the >A8) to Chile rather than Geneva (or Montreal) for
advice on social welfare policies.
The technical emphasis of the Office ref lected the expertise of the
Office’s Social Insurance Section, the needs of existing social insurance
institutions in Latin America, and the interests of states – like Mexico –

 >AD, Director’s Report to the Third Conference of American States Members, p. .
 Spalding, “Welfare Policymaking: Theoretical Implications of a Mexican Case
Study”, pp. -.
 Rosenberg, “Social Security Policymaking in Costa Rica”.
 Idem, “Social Reform in Costa Rica”, pp. -. See also, Martinez Franzoni, Policy
Environments and Selective Emulation in the Making of Health Policies; Hytrek, “Insurgent
Labor, Economic Change and Social Development”.

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which sought to build corporatist social insurance as a solution to what was

previously known as the “social question” (rather than as an anti-poverty
strategy). The provision of technical assistance did not entail the kind
of rethinking of social welfare policy that was ref lected in the >AD’s more
strategic and visionary documents of -. Under the Office’s inf lu-
ence, therefore, social insurance schemes were reformed in ways such as
unification. The list of technical assistance provided by the Office does not
include a single mention of social assistance.
The emphasis on social insurance in Latin America meant that most
of the poor were excluded from social welfare policies. The  Confer-
ence in Rio de Janeiro made a qualified commitment to rural workers, but
only “to the extent and at the pace permitted by the national and regional
characteristics of each country”. Uruguay, which drew on a tradition of
combining social assistance and social insurance, had already introduced
reforms that moved in this direction. From , rural workers were cov-
ered by an insurance scheme – providing old age, invalidity, and survi-
vors’ benefits – that was financed not out of direct contributions but from
a tax on landed property (i.e. an earmarked part of general taxation). In
general, however, social insurance schemes in Latin America over the fol-
lowing decades were to expand into a mechanism for redistribution not
from rich to poor, but if anything from poor to rich, with the poor paying
through higher prices as well as taxes used to subsidize the social insurance
benefits of workers in formal employment. Put another way, the formally
employed were to be maintained at European-style levels at the expense of
the poor. This is what the German model meant in the context of the later
and partially industrializing countries of the global South.

Applying ILO Conventions in British Colonies

The >AD’s universal ambitions embraced not only independent or self-gov-

erning states outside Europe, such as the major Latin American countries

 The corporatist ambitions are suggested in the  Declaration of Santiago, which
refers to the benefits of social insurance to society as a whole. Workers need social
insurance so as to maintain their productive contribution to national welfare. There
is no mention of individual rights, or of citizenship.
 >AD, Director’s Report to the Third Conference of American States, pp. -.
 Quoted in >AD, Inter-American Committee on Social Security, p. .
 >AD, Director’s Report to the Third Conference of American States, p. .

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and South Africa, but also colonies. India – one of the >AD’s special coun-
tries – was a full member of the >AD from , separate from the “Brit-
ish Empire” (as Britain itself was called at the >AD). But most of the British
Empire – and its French and other imperial counterparts – were considered
as “dependent territories”. Most of these colonies were even less industri-
alized than the “sparsely-populated” and special countries. In the British
case, its Colonial Office constructed elaborate procedures for deliberating
and reporting on the applicability in the colonies of both draft and adopted
>A8 conventions. Some conventions concerning employment were ref lected
in colonial legislation and policy reform. But there is little evidence of the
social insurance conventions having any effect prior to the Second World
War. Indeed, it was the rival tradition of social assistance, ref lected espe-
cially in Britain’s non-contributory old-age pension system, which played
a more visible role in shaping British colonial reforms.
Formally, each colonial power was supposed to report to the Office on
the application of conventions in their colonies. This need to report to the
>AD, as well as to comment on draft conventions, helped to bureaucratize
the British Empire further. The Colonial Office regularly sent out “circu-
lar despatches” to British colonies, enquiring about the application of >A8
conventions. It established a Colonial Labour Committee, in part to con-
sider responses and advise on reporting to the >AD, and appointed a special-
ist labour adviser. The requirements of the >AD combined with other factors
– including strikes and riots in the colonies themselves – to prompt a more
centralized harmonization of British imperial policy and practice in the
fields of labour and social policies.
Interaction between the >AD and the imperial bureaucracy began with
the Colonial Office canvassing opinion on draft conventions circulated
by the >AD. On the most relevant draft conventions, the Colonial Labour
Committee would draft a response taking into account suggestions from
the various colonies. For example, the >AD’s intention to re-examine con-
tracts for “indigenous workers” led to the Committee compiling a massive
seventy-six-page document in . After a convention had been adopted
at the >A8, the British state began a second, slower process of response. The
Colonial Office would wait until the British Government had ratified a
convention, which took between three and four years in the cases of the
 and  conventions on social insurance. Then the Colonial Office
would send a “circular despatch” to the colonies, some of which would

 National Archives of Great Britain (London) [hereafter, C6<7], Colonial Office

papers, file 8D //.

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respond promptly, but others not at all. Even if colonies responded that the
convention was appropriate and relevant, the Colonial Office was gener-
ally unable or unwilling to impose a specific policy model on its diverse
colonies and often independent-minded colonial officers. At each stage,
colonial governments were discerning in their response to the proposed or
actual >A8 conventions. At one point the Governor of Jamaica submitted a
comprehensive report that detailed the application of each of twenty-one
conventions. Conventions concerning the employment of children had
been applied, but conventions concerning minimum wage machinery and
workmen’s compensation as well as the whole battery concerning social
insurance had not been applied. The content of the Jamaican response
was typical: labour regulation was generally regarded as sensible, but social
insurance was not.
The generally negative responses to the >A8 social insurance conven-
tions did not mean that British colonies were not engaged in social wel-
fare activities. Some, notably in the Caribbean, were thinking hard about
ways to improve their policies for poverty alleviation. Most of the British
West Indies (as well as Mauritius) had long-standing poor laws. With the
ever-deepening crisis in global sugar markets, colonies that were depen-
dent on the production and export of sugar sought ways of going beyond
their existing poor laws. Riots in the late s encouraged this search.
Even before their respective riots – and prior to receiving the circular des-
patch from the Colonial Office concerning the application of the >A8’s 
Conventions on Old-Age Insurance (C  and C ) – the Governors of
both Barbados and Trinidad (and Tobago) had appointed committees to
investigate old-age pensions. Both committees recommended non-con-
tributory old-age pensions (i.e. social assistance along the lines of the 
British model). In Trinidad, the crisis precipitated by riots led to the tem-
porary shelving of the proposed old-age pension plans, but in Barbados the
governor ignored discouraging correspondence from the Colonial Office
and an Old-Age Pensions Act was passed by the end of . Trinidad
subsequently introduced similar non-contributory old-age pensions in
, and British Guiana followed suit in . In Jamaica, also, there was
chronic deliberation around the need for non-contributory old-age pen-
sions from early , although pensions were not introduced until much
later. In Mauritius, similarly, chronic debate and repeated investigation
(from ) did not result in actual policy reforms until rather later. In each

 C6<7-8D //.
 Seekings, “Pa’s Pension”, pp. -.

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case – except for Mauritius – discussion was almost entirely around non-
contributory schemes, with little attention paid to contributory systems of
social insurance.
The adoption of social assistance rather than social insurance was not
simply out of ignorance. The pioneering governor of Barbados actually
replied to the Colonial Despatch on the >A8’s  conventions in June ,
probably before completing his draft old-age pensions bill and definitely
before the bill was debated in the Barbados legislature. By this time Brit-
ain had itself adopted a contributory old-age pension system to comple-
ment the original non-contributory system (of ), and in any case had
long had (ostensibly) contributory schemes for unemployment and sickness
insurance. But it seems to be the case that, in British colonies, the British
Old-Age Pensions Act of  had a status and appeal that went beyond any
other British legislation, and certainly beyond anything emanating from
the >AD. Social assistance was the dominant, even hegemonic idea circulat-
ing in reformist circles in the British West Indies in the late s.
Crucially, however, the social assistance model was also more appro-
priate to local conditions and needs. The sugar-producing colonies were
open economies in which low world prices for their product placed severe
constraints on wages and hence also contributory insurance schemes. The
only way of relieving poverty was to finance welfare payments out of gen-
eral taxation. The introduction of compulsory social insurance would have
destroyed the sugar industry in places like Barbados, just as surely as the
application of any convention that raised markedly either wages or other
costs of employment. Colonies such as Barbados faced a reality in the s
that would become more widespread later: the application of a “worker-
ist” model of labour and social insurance policies would, in the context of
global competition, exacerbate rather than ameliorate poverty. Suppressing
low-cost competition, including from outside of Europe, was one of the
objectives of many European governments, employers and workers within
the >AD, in order to safeguard the incomes of workers (and profits of employ-
ers) in their countries. However, suppressing such competition could easily
exacerbate poverty in the poorer countries of the global South.
Cooper assesses that the >AD played an important role in the British and
French colonial governments’ attempts to “stabilise” African labour. The
“French and British governments […] took the >AD agenda quite seriously
in internal discussions”, and sought to use it to their advantage by claim-

 I examine the Jamaican and Mauritian cases in unpublished work-in-progress.

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ing the moral high ground at the same time as depoliticizing labour issues.
British and French government colonial experts met regularly to discuss
(in technical terms) policy reforms. The first Inter-African Labour Con-
ference was held in Nigeria in . The policy agenda included social
welfare reforms: officials agreed that African workers should be insured
against all risks, and old-age pensions should be introduced “where tribal
organization has ceased to be effective”.
Whilst both the British and French did move slowly to accept and regu-
late the growing urban African populations, their priorities were to stabi-
lize the rural areas through developmental policies such that social welfare
reforms were not required. Indeed, the imperial embrace of development
was in part a strategy for def lecting demands for European-style welfare
policies. Faced with precedents such as the Barbados old-age pensions and
an Empire-wide f lurry of excitement in response to the  Beveridge
Report, the British Colonial Office formulated a statement on welfare
policy that explicitly discouraged British-style reforms and steered colonial
governments towards development instead. The underlying view had
been expressed earlier by the Colonial Office’s labour advisor:

There seems to be some reason for doubt whether the methods of the Bev-
eridge Report are quite suited to colonial conditions. It is designed for an
advanced democratic community with a high standard of education and a
long experience of social services; such a description is clearly inapplicable to
the populations of the African colonies, or even the West Indies.

European-style reforms might be required for the small but significant

population of urban workers, many of whom had weak links to rural soci-
ety, but “development” was the answer for the vast majority of the popu-
lation living in the countryside. The rural population would be helped to
produce more efficiently and for the market, through state interventions
such as educational extension, the establishment of new parastatal mar-
keting institutions, compulsory cattle-dipping and cropping techniques,
credit facilities, and even land reform. Even without the >AD, the British

 Cooper, Decolonisation and African Society, pp. -.

 Ibid, p. .
 The key document here was a Memorandum on Social Security in the Colonial Territories,
completed in mid- but only published in .
 Orde-Browne, “Social Insurance in the Colonies”, April , C6<7-8D //,
document , p. .

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and other imperial powers were moving towards a dualistic policy that
emphasized development in rural areas and stabilization – including the
kinds of reforms introduced in Europe over the previous half-century – for
the small minority of urban workers. The appeal of social insurance was
that it could be limited to the latter, whereas social assistance was inher-
ently universal. Africa was thus steered down a path of social insurance for
a privileged minority, without the >AD having to play much of a role.


From the mid-s, the >AD sought to promote welfare state building as
part of its efforts to regulate wage labour on a global scale. The >AD’s stan-
dards were generally established with the more industrialized societies in
mind, however, and were rarely easily applicable in the less industrialized
conditions across most of the global South. It was the documentation that
the >AD produced and circulated, as well as the deliberations at the >A8, that
were inf luential in a range of cases. As the South African case illustrates
most clearly, the >AD’s inf luence was strongest on technocrats charged with
drafting proposals for policy reforms; but technocrats did not necessarily
have the power or inf luence to transform their proposals into policy.
In her case-study of Mexico in the s, Spalding emphasizes that par-
tisan elites were also concerned to embrace what they saw as “modern”
policies. By the mid-twentieth century:

[…] a consensus began to emerge that a social security system was a defin-
ing characteristic of modern, progressive government. […] Late-developing,
dependent, nations, in which ambitious state leaders are attempting to estab-
lish international credibility, seem especially susceptible to these pressures.
Certainly in the Mexican case the continued absence of a policy deemed
abroad as the hallmark of progressive government caused political leaders
considerable chagrin and provided an impetus for policy adoption. A special
need to secure the symbols of modernity, therefore, may well accentuate the
imitative policy actions of developing states.

The strive to be modern might have characterized key policy-makers in

some of the cases considered in this paper – for example, the innovative

 Spalding, “Welfare Policy-making”, p. .

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colonial governor of Barbados who introduced old-age pensions for poor,

black, voteless Barbadians in the late s and his South African counter-
parts who did likewise in the early s – but policy-makers typically had
a range of other concerns. South African policy-makers in the s, for
example, sought to re-establish a clear racial hierarchy through using wel-
fare reforms to raise poor, elderly, white people out of poverty.
Foreign models were more likely to be emulated in developing coun-
tries than in Europe, Spalding suggests, because organized interest groups
(notably labour) had much less power. This was certainly true in most of
the cases considered in this paper. Even though the more industrialized
cases such as South Africa, Argentina, and Chile had organized labour
movements, they exerted much less power over these countries’ govern-
ments than many of their European counterparts – sometimes because of
their ideological reticence about engaging with the state. But this did
not mean that policy-makers were free from pressure from below. In both
South Africa and Argentina, skilled workers comprised an intermittently
important electoral constituency. In the Caribbean and parts of Latin
America, workers exercised a disruptive power through direct action far
beyond their capacity for effective organization. In a range of cases, they
exerted sufficient pressure on policy-making elites that the latter had good
reason to want to placate or co-opt them.
An aspiration to modernity was less decisive than conditions on the
ground in determining which of the foreign models would be most inf lu-
ential in any given setting. The >AD pushed strongly and consistently the
German model of social insurance (even when its own official position
was more accommodating of alternatives). But the >AD was not the only
source of inf luence. Within the British Empire, especially, the pauperist
model of targeted social assistance was more inf luential. In the early s,
the Beveridge Report was probably more inf luential than the Philadelphia
Declaration and the accompanying recommendations (documents that the
Beveridge Report had helped to shape). In most of Latin America, the
>AD was quite distant until the late s, and other models had currency –
including the model of Fascist Italy in countries like Argentina in the early
s. Indeed, Uruguay, Chile, and Argentina all introduced large-scale
social insurance (and in Argentina’s case planned even grander reforms)
prior to the first substantive discussions of this in the >A8 or the Office. The

 Seekings, “Workers and the Beginnings of Welfare State-Building in Argentina and

South Africa”.
 Lewis, “Social Insurance”, pp. -.

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>AD’s preoccupation with global standard-setting, using industrial European

standards, may indeed have limited its inf luence in much of the South,
because governments like South Africa’s were all too aware of the inappro-
priateness of much of what the >AD deemed “standard”.
In Latin America and elsewhere, policy-makers tended to take the >AD’s
advice when it suited them. The >AD’s workerist model was applied when
policy-makers sought to co-opt the industrial working class, especially if
the ensuing costs could be passed onto consumers because of rates of pro-
tection. It was less appealing in a society like Barbados, which was an open
economy dependent on the export of a commodity whose price was set on
a global market.
It is possible even that policy developments in the global South served to
shape the >AD as much as vice-versa. The persistent citations of difference by
special countries, sparsely-populated countries and, indeed, other member
states from Latin America and elsewhere, served to push the >AD towards an
approach that accommodated concerns with social and economic develop-
ment beyond social welfare. Moreover, it is possible that the strong interest
in social insurance across much of Latin America, manifested in the 
Santiago Declaration, served to counter somewhat the emphasis on social
assistance from Britain and elsewhere, resulting in a diluted commitment
to social assistance in the  Income Security Recommendation.

 Seekings, “A Comparative Analysis of Welfare Regimes in the South”.

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