The Institute of Development and Labour Law started as the Labour Law unit in 1987 with a grant from the Ford Foundation. Its brief then was to assist emerging democratic forces, in particular the labour movement and other NGO's, with capacity-building and applied research in the area of labour rights and labour market reform. The Unit contributed to the struggle for labour rights through training (mainly of trade union paralegals), applied research and involvement in litigation on behalf of trade unions.
In 1992, when transition to democracy was clearly underway, a Development Law Unit was established as a Human Sciences Research Council project. Its focus was on development law issues such as land, housing, small and medium enterprise, and other socio-economic issues.
The two Units merged in 1996 to form the Institute of Development and Labour Law, with the broad mission to assist with capacity building and to enhance democratic governance through applied research, training, and extension services in South Africa and the broader SADC region
The Institute's objectives are:
To conduct and commission research into development and labour law issues in Southern Africa;
To produce and disseminate publications arising out of the research undertaken;
To convene conferences, seminars and workshops;
To provide educational and training services;
To establish and foster collaborative links in the region and elsewhere, and to provide a reference point for policy and scholarship.
The Institute adopts a "law in context" approach which properly reflects the interdisciplinary character of its work.
The Development and Labour Monograph Series is an interdisciplinary forum for research and debate on development and labour issues in Southern Africa. The Institute also publishes occasional papers and reports about ongoing research as well as other types of publications.