We know from historical and comparative research that unfettered labour markets are not reliable instruments for serving the changing social and economic needs of individuals, households and society. In response to their failure to correct a range of problems, including high rates of unemployment, excessive working hours, spiraling executive pay or a low-skill workforce, governments, unions and employers have intervened in a variety of ways in efforts to narrow the disconnects, or distortions, between norms of societal progress and labour market functioning. One significant distortion is the failure of free, competitive labour markets to prevent the payment of exploitative wages-a practice that has fuelled social and academic commentary for decades, whether in the early twentieth-century critiques of ‘parasitic’, low-wage factory employers (Webb 1912) or in the contemporary theoretical accounts of women’s undervalued work in the care sector and evidence of poor treatment of migrant workers in the agriculture and food-packaging industries (e.g. England and Folbre 2003; Ruhs and Anderson 2010).