The Jordan Compact, refugee labour and the limits of indicator-oriented formalization

Katharina Lenner, Lewis Turner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This article explores the significance of initiatives to formalize the labour market participation of refugees. Many practitioners believe that formalization is a panacea for improving the lives of marginalized workers, including refugees. This article argues, however, that in practice it easily becomes an indicator-oriented exercise, where readily quantifiable targets are prioritized over substantive improvements. To this end, the article analyses the trajectory of the Jordan Compact, a flagship initiative that brought together humanitarian, development and labour actors to create ‘win-win’ solutions for Syrians and Jordanians. Drawing on years of qualitative fieldwork in Jordan, the article traces how the Jordan Compact has made formalization an end in itself, with little regard for how much it actually benefits workers. It examines three central areas of programming: work permits, home-based businesses and working conditions. In each area, the article demonstrates how the chosen indicators have shaped initiatives while undermining meaningful reform. Bringing together insights from humanitarianism, development and critical labour studies, the analysis shows that indicator-oriented formalization, a form of measurement-driven governance, ostensibly produces impressive results, yet it can simultaneously undermine longer-term, multidimensional processes that would benefit workers more. The article advocates shifting the focus onto the individual and collective power of workers so that they can better realize the potential benefits of formalization.
Original languageEnglish
JournalDevelopment and Change
Early online date25 Apr 2024
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 25 Apr 2024

Bibliographical note

Preliminary acceptance on Feb 9th, 2024 (see attached acceptance letter); final acceptance date Feb 16th, 2024.


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