Global Policy Forum

Labor Rights and Labor Movements



Picture Credit: ILO

Working conditions should be protected by well-enforced rules – rules that guarantee workers the right to organize, to have limits on their work day, to be paid a minimum wage, to enjoy social security and more. Workers have enjoyed these guarantees in the rich countries for nearly a century, but recently governments have been weakening the rules in the name of "global competition." Meanwhile, in spite of many conventions of the International Labour Organisation (ILO), workers in poor countries have few rights or protections, and some endure terrible working conditions. Financial crises in Asia, Eastern Europe and Latin America have only made matters worse. And the Bretton Woods Institutions have long tried to weaken regulations governing employers' obligations to their workers. The following materials look at these issues and the growing international movement to strengthen workers' rights – an essential part of the movement towards global citizenship.


UN Documents

Gender Dimensions of Agricultural and Rural Employment: Differentiated Pathways Out of Poverty (December 2010)

The UN Food and Agricultural Organization, the International Fund for Agricultural Development and the International Labour Office have produced a report that examines gender inequalities that limit women's access to decent work. Women make substantial contributions to feeding their families and their countries. However women lag behind men in access to land, credit, technology, information, advisory services and training. The report considers the most recent thinking on the gender dimensions of rural poverty since almost half the world's poor live in rural areas. (UN FAO)

One in Twelve of the World's Children Are Forced into Child Labor (February 18, 2005)

According to a report on child labor, an estimated 180 million children work in the worst forms of child labor, including hazardous work, slavery, forced labor, armed forces, commercial sexual exploitation and illicit activities. UNICEF UK appeals to governments to take immediate action to end poverty, which it identifies as the root cause for child exploitation. (UNICEF UK)


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A new initiative called Electronics Watch launched its website 16 September 2013 as an independent, comprehensive and reliable control system that informs the public on human rights voilations surrounding the electronics industry. It is particularly based around the problem of a lack of attention being given to the employment rights violations in the electronics industry in Europe and seeks for measures to be taken by raising awareness.

The Price of a 'Fast' Life (March 2, 2013)

Recent fires in Bangladesh factories once again raised concerns about workers’ rights and safety in the manufacturing industry. Bangladesh is the world’s second largest clothing exporter employing 3 million workers, mostly women who earn meager salaries of just $43 per month. Finance minister, Abdul Maal Abdul Muhit admits the overdependence of Bangladeshi economy on garment exports that comprise 80% of all exports. Part of the problem leading to exploitation, according to Judy Gearhard, International Labour Rights Forum Executive Director is poor government regulation of existing laws. Retailers and suppliers are driven by price and although code of conduct auditing is popular, it is a voluntary process used for PR or assessing risk and often does not ensure change in their operations. Finally, consumers also have a responsibility through their choices but must also advocate for better government procurement practices. (Al Jazeera)

Why Global Labour Reforms are Vital to Protect Vulnerable Workers (January 10, 2013)

The beheading of a 17 year old domestic worker from Sri Lanka, condemned by a Saudi court for the death of a four month old baby in a care, has raised issues with labor laws worldwide. Over 50 million domestic workers are employed worldwide, a 50% increase since the mid-1990’s according to the ILO. Those working in foreign countries are unfamiliar with local laws and often do not speak the local language. Furthermore, in many countries, domestic workers are excluded from national labor laws, allowing them to be exploited through unpaid or forced labor. In 2012, nine countries have signed the Domestic Workers Convention to extend domestic labor laws to migrant workers, and since children are often part of this workforce, the convention has special causes that protect minors. International labor reforms like this are needed to ensure the protection of workers like Rizana, who was left defenseless against the legal system in Saudi Arabia.


General Motors' Hunger Games (September 10, 2012)

The September hunger strikes by the workers of the General Motors subsidiary Colmotores brings the issue of labor rights in Colombia back to the table. The workers claim that they were not dismissed due to declining productivity, but in fact because “they were injured on the job and deemed no longer useful.” Worker abuse is common in Colombia. It leads the world in anti-union violence, with over 3000 trade union activists assassinated since 1986, with no recourse to justice due to weak political will and judicial mechanisms. Despite its questionable labor and human rights reputation, the US has implemented a Free Trade Agreement with Colombia promising there will be reforms, but there is no real change in the situation on the ground so far. (The American Prospect)

Export Powerhouse Feels Pangs of Labor Strife (August 23, 2012)

With wages increasing in China, Bangladesh is taking over the role of lead garment exporter to major apparel brands in the US and Europe seeking cheap labor. The government is keen to keep the country’s global reputation ‘investor friendly’ and protests by factory workers have been met with physical violence by the police. This ‘work or leave’ attitude by the government and factory owners has left dissenting workers with no alternative since politicians, apparel factory owners and media outlets form a powerful, tight-knit elite in the country. The US has warned Bangladesh not to cut back on wages, and investors concerned about their brand image have shown interest in labor rights in the country, but no one has taken real responsibility for bearing the cost of an increase in wages. (New York Times)

Assault on Colombian Trade Unions Continues Unabated (July 24, 2012)

Labor reforms in Colombia have not been fully implemented despite the Labor Action Plan (LAP) promised in the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with the US in May. Multinational companies still hire paramilitary groups to repress trade unions—anti-labor violence has even spiked since the LAP began. While labor activists criticize the Colombian government’s corruption and lack of political will to implement the LAP, they also urge the US government to provide financial and technical assistance. Although the FTA seems to have benefitted only commercial interests, the unmet promises in LAP provide standard for the activists to hold the government accountable. (IPS)

How Banks and Politicians Let One Company Come Back from the Deat to Keep Abusing Workers (July 15, 2012)

Corporations have found loopholes to abuse labor rights in the US. In February 2011, Pennsylvania’s Alleghany County Council pledged not to do business with W&K Steel, a construction company accused of having unsafe working condition and abusing refugee labor. Three months later, the company filed for bankruptcy, and was taken over by Trinity Steel, a new company created by the sister of W&K Steel’s owner. The same family is managing the same workers, using the same equipment, out of the same office, getting taxpayer construction funding from West Virginia, except without the “W&K” name to boycott against. (AlterNet)

In China, Human Costs are Built Into an iPad (January 25, 2012)

Bleak working conditions have been documented at factories manufacturing products of Apple, Dell, Hewlett-Packard, I.B.M., Lenovo,Motorola, Nokia, Sony, Toshiba and others. This New York Time’s article examines the labor conditions of workers assembling iPhones, iPads and other Apple devices. Employees work excessive hours and up to seven days a week, live in crowded dorms and stand so long that their legs swell until they can no longer walk. Experts argue that given Apple’s leadership in global manufacturing, if the company were to radically change its ways, it could overhaul how business is done. Until consumers demand better conditions and regulators act, however, there is little impetus for radical change. “And right now, customers care more about a new IPhone than working conditions in China.” (New York Times)


Growth with Social Justice: Time for a New Era (June 1, 2011)

With high global unemployment and deplorable jobs for the majority of the world’s people, Juan Somavia, head of the International Labour Organization, calls for change. Somavia identifies “a lack of jobs and decent work” as a major source of worldwide discontent and argues that “the current growth model” is responsible for this situation. A new model of growth based on social justice, job creation and human needs, should replace the model based on financial sector enrichment. (Inter Press Service)

Freed by Egypt's Revolt, Workers Press Demands (February 16, 2011)

Egyptian labor unions that played an integral role in ousting President Hosni Mubarak are continuing strikes and pressing the new military-led government for increased wages eaten away by inflation. The ruling Supreme Military Council has repeatedly called on striking union workers to return to work, but its appeals have gone unanswered. Economists are concerned that the strikes may ruin what is left of Egypt's badly damaged economy. Yet, union workers appear unwilling to back down until their demand for higher wages are met. (The New York Times)

Sweatshops at Sea: Most of Our Goods Arrive Via Ships Where Seafarers Labor in Dangerous Conditions (February 2011)

The exploitation of factory sweatshop workers in countries with cheap labor is well-known. There is also serious exploitation in another sector of the labor market. Seafarers are essential to the operation of the global economy with about 90 percent of all international cargo transported by sea. These workers are underpaid, overworked and subjected to dangerous onboard conditions. Limited international regulation of maritime labor and “flags of convenience” exacerbate the problem, leaving crews with little recourse against exploitative practices. (Alert Net)


Wage Laws Squeeze South Africa's Poor (September 26, 2010)

Half of the black population between ages 15 to 36 in South Africa is currently unemployed. That is three times as many as unemployed white South Africans. The scars of apartheid are still visible and failures of the post-apartheid educational system have left a large number of people outside the labor market. Low wage competition from Asia along with the drop of tariff barriers in 1994 has created a situation where people fear being out of work more than getting stuck in poorly paid jobs. Trade unions are now being blamed for worsening the employment situation, when negotiations of higher wages make companies relocate their production, leaving more South Africans unemployed. (New York Times)

As Global Economic Crisis Continues, Union Activists Pay the Ultimate Price (September 5, 2010)

Workers rights are inseparable from human rights but governments often fail to protect them. Last year over 100 people were killed as a result of their union activities and over sixty years after the creation of the ILO Convention on the Right to Organize and Collective Bargaining, still nearly half of the economically active population live and work in countries that have not ratified the Convention. If international labor rights aren’t recognized by influential states, like the US and Canada, workers in poor countries have little to expect from global norms and protection. (The Huffington Post)

Labor Rights Under Scrutiny in Bangladesh and Sri Lanka (August 16, 2010)

Human Rights Watch and the European Union have alleged large-scale exploitation of labor in the garment industries of Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.  In both South Asian countries, the problem is magnified by the absence of basic labor rights, including the right of workers to safe working conditions and fair wages. Withdrawal of tariff concessions on exports or other trade agreements could only worsen the situation. The Bangladeshi and Sri Lankan UN Ambassadors have offered a more benign narrative, noting their countries' relative success in implementing the Millennium Development Goals. (IPS)

Suicide Exposes Stresses of China Factory Life (May 25, 2010)

Foxconn is one of China's leading producers for international technology firms such as Apple, Hewlett-Packard and Dell. In 3the past six months, nine of the production giant's employees have committed suicide. Foxconn representatives blame the suicides on personal issues but the unfortunate deaths raise questions about labor practices in China. The pattern of worker suicide is not unique to Foxconn but is emerging as a trend across factories in China. (Globe and Mail)

Decent Work Still a Dream for South Africa's Domestic Workers (May 11, 2010)

Domestic workers in South Africa have labor rights protection under the nation's Domestic Worker Sector law. The government scarcely enforces the law, though, and it rarely punishes labor abuses. There are debates about how the law intersects with competing rights of workers, employers and illegal immigrants. The South African Domestic Service and Allied Workers Union (SADSAWU) is lobbying to protect all workers, especially women, illegal immigrants and migrant workers. (IPS)

Activists Fear Setbacks under Rightwing Government (February 3, 2010)

Chile's new rightwing president, Sebastián Piñera, worries NGOs and trade unionists as he is keen on increasing economic growth through neoliberal policies. Activists fear that economic policies will take precedence over social policies in education, health, labor and environment areas. Protestors complain about how neoliberalism has fostered individualism and divided the country's united trade union movement as a result. Social organizations are also concerned about a parliamentary bill that may stifle dissenting voices. (IPS)

Recession and Recovery: the Lucky are Unemployed (January 26, 2010)

As the world rebounds from the economic crisis, unemployment rates are higher in the richest countries. But statistics may conceal more than they reveal. While lower unemployment rates may prevail in poor countries, the ILO suggests that there is an alarming number of working poor and those in vulnerable employment. This IPS editorial points to a massive "decent work" deficit world wide as the most serious issue in the long run. (IPS)

Domestic child labor: An overview of Brazil's recent experience (January 20, 2010)

Domestic work is often neglected. ILO statistics report that domestic work represents up to 10 percent of the total work force in several countries. Not only is this work undervalued, unprotected, overworked and underpaid, it opens the way to the abuse of children. Armand Pereira argues that more can be done to crack down on child labor through efforts to improve the regulatory framework of domestic labor at large. (ILO)

ILO: Latin America Lost 2.2 Million Jobs in 2009 (January 11, 2010)

The International Labour Organisation has announced in its newly-released annual report that Latin America and the Caribbean have lost 2.2 million jobs during the recent economic crisis. With urban unemployment rising to 8.4 percent from 7.5 percent in 2008, five straight years of falling unemployment rates have been reversed. Lower commodity prices are highlighted as a major culprit. (ILO)


Call for High Street Stores to Stop Using Uzbek Cotton (December 23, 2009)

The cotton industry in Uzbekistan generates over $1billion dollars per year. The Uzbek government is accused of forcing children out of school to work in cotton fields unpaid. This campaign calls for global high street companies to terminate business with the Uzbek cotton industry until child labor has been eradicated. (Anti- Slavery International)

New Report Highlights Exploitation of Migrant Workers (October 30, 2009)

Kav LaOved, an Israeli NGO campaigning for labor rights in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, has released a report on the harsh living conditions of migrant workers in the agriculture sector. Having paid around 9000 US dollars to come to work in Israel, some 30 000 migrant workers from various countries, work more than the allowed hours with only one day off a month. Some employers even withhold the workers' passports. (IRIN)

EU Approves Millions in Aid for Dairy Farmers (October 19, 2009)

European Union agreed to give 280 million euros to dairy farmers who have been protesting aggressively in the streets demanding more subsidies as well as more protective measures. Farmers believe that EU's responses to the global crisis entailed double standards, since the EU found money to bail out banks and the automobile industry; but did not take into consideration farmers' needs. Other food sectors such as cereal, sugar beet, pork etc., inspired by their dairy colleagues, seek more aid, but some EU member oppose this. (Associated Press)

Informal Employment Curbs Trade Benefits for Developing Countries (October 12, 2009)

Developing countries have a high rate of informal employment especially in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia with 80 % in certain countries. Employees in these regions do not have job security and social protection. A recent report by WTO and ILO on globalization and informal jobs in developing countries claims mutual reinforcement between "decent work" and trade - a controversial finding. The report encourages developing countries to support decent work through more open economies. (WTO News)

Strike Wave Sweeps Serbia (August 31, 2009)

Serbian trade unionists are on strike since mid-August, as the new owners of privatized companies show reluctance to pay salaries and insurances. Protesters accuse the government's Privatization Agency for its hasty decisions, as almost twenty-five percent of the contract signers failed to honor the deals. (Terraviva Europe)

Workers Occupy UK Factory (August 4, 2009)

In a fight to save more than 600 jobs, workers have occupied a factory on the Isle of Wight. The factory produces wind turbines and is owned by the Danish company Vesta. The workers have every reason to be angry. Although the heads of the factory claim that demand for the turbines is falling across northern Europe, the company recently reported a 59 percent increase in sales to over $1.4 billion. The closure of the Vesta's factory would have a devastating effect on the local economy. (Socialistworker)

ILO adopts 'Global Job Pact' Aimed at Creating Jobs, Protecting Workers and Stimulating Economic Recovery (June 29, 2009)

The ILO has launched a Global Job Pact. It encourages employers and workers to seek joint solutions to problems posed by the global financial crisis. In order for the Job Pact to succeed, employers, workers and governments must collectively take responsibility for its implementation. (ILO)


Trade Unions and Globalisation: Enlarging Agendas (November 22, 2007)

In response to growing economic globalization, more integrated global markets and international production systems, trade unions across the globe are joining forces. The unions increasingly coordinate their work to advocate international labor standards and rules of conduct for transnational companies. They encourage national governments to secure "proper regulation, taxation and transparency" for private sectors. (World Economy and Development)

Massive Inequality is Unexamined Fault Line Behind GM Walk-Out (October 2, 2007)

In the first half of the twentieth century, US labor unions struggled successfully to improve wages and working conditions. The unions had support from high level politicians, among them President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who proposed the idea of a maximum wage to counter income inequality. Even though the Congress never adopted the maximum wage, high wages were held down by high taxes. Since then, US administrations have lowered tax rates and the strength and influence of labor movements has been diminished. Organized General Motors auto workers are now trying to reverse the trend, as was demonstrated through their factory walkout in October 2007. (AlterNet)

ASEAN Assumes Migrant Rights Duties (August 2, 2007)

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has agreed to set up a commission that seeks to protect and uphold the rights of migrant workers. With this commission, sending states will eliminate company negligence by guaranteeing official and valid contracts to workers, while receiving states will encourage job security, payment of salaries and the right to decent working and living conditions for migrant workers. According to a report by Amnesty International, migrant workers in Thailand have endured human rights violations from employers, including "forcible return to their countries, inhuman treatment in immigration detention centers and unsafe working and living conditions". (Inter Press Service)

Multinationals to China: No New Labor Rights (May 16, 2007)

US and European corporations in China are trying to block a new law that would improve the working conditions of workers as well as increase their power and protection. Despite China's economic growth, most Chinese workers live on the edge of poverty, earning very little and working in appalling conditions. Multinational companies sent the Chinese government extensive attacks on the proposed law even threatening to leave if the law is passed. (Multinational Monitor)

Globalization and Child Labor: The Cause Can Also Be A Cure (March 13, 2007)

This Yale Global article reports that, while economic globalization has brought about forced child labor, political globalization can "put an end to the practice" through public opinion. The 2001 Cocoa Protocol, for example, which promoted a label certifying chocolate products as "child labor free," arose out of global public outcry over the human rights violations in the cacao industry. However, the author argues that only a broad, unified approach by policymakers, companies, and civil society can successfully end the exploitation of child labor. (Yale Global)


Secrets, Lies, and Sweatshops (November 27, 2006)

While most US retailers assert that their offshore suppliers comply with widely accepted labor codes of conduct, this BusinessWeek piece exposes a very widespread praxis of concealing labor rights abuses in Chinese factories, the largest single source of US imports. The article chronicles one example after the other of Chinese factories keeping double sets of books to fool labor standard auditors, and even using consultants to coach managers in how to mislead auditors. While US companies express regret with their Chinese suppliers' labor standard violations, factory managers complain that the retailers' continuous pressure for low prices forces the violations. Ultimately, the article highlights the problematic coexistence of humane working conditions with inexpensive clothes and electronics for US consumers. (BusinessWeek)

Hey, Nice Clothes. But Are They Ethical? (October 13, 2006)

This Christian Science Monitor article tells how Lesotho has succeeded in giving new life to its textile business by becoming an origin of "ethical clothing." Companies "promise customers" that they do not use sweatshop labor in Sotho clothes production, and that "working conditions me[e]t high safety standards." Under rock star Bono's Product Red' label, companies like Gap and Emporio Armani sell a variety of ethical goods, and give a portion of the profits to the Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria.' According to a representative of the Ethical Trading Initiative, "there has been a huge surge" in consumer interest in ethical fashion.(Christian Science Monitor)

Realizing Decent Work in Asia (August-September 2006)

This International Labor Organization (ILO) report highlights how unemployment in Asia has increased despite robust growth in investment, output and productivity. Moreover, since employers continuously fall short of providing "decent work" conditions, employment fails to reduce poverty. One billion "working poor" in Asia live on less than US$2 a day, 330 million of these on less than US$1. The particularly high unemployment rates among the young and a working age population set to grow rapidly over the next decade spurs further concern. On the other hand, the ILO finds Asia has the potential to take the lead on decent job creation. (ILO)

Africa Adds to Miserable Ranks of Child Workers (August 24, 2006)

This powerful New York Times article highlights the experience of a nine-year-old quarry worker in Zambia. The child labor problem in sub-Saharan Africa not only deprives young workers of their childhood, but also furthers a cycle of poverty where they remain illiterate and sometimes turn to illegal or dangerous activities to survive. The author notes that child labor goes beyond a legal issue, since poverty and disease contribute to the growing incidence of child labor and many families can barely afford to eat. (New York Times)

Child Labour - Slow Progress, Right Direction (June 13, 2006)

Statistics show an 11% decline in the number of child workers from 2000 to 2004. Although governments can claim success in this moderate improvement, the worst forms of child labor persist. The International Labor Organization (ILO) calls on all governments to make the "right" policy decisions concerning child labor, and to ensure that children who do work "get a fair share of economic growth and development." (Inter Press Service)


Globalization Failing to Create New, Quality Jobs or Reduce Poverty (December 9, 2005)

Neoliberal globalization is failing "to translate into new and better jobs that lead to a reduction in poverty" says a report from the International Labour Organization (ILO). According to ILO's figures, half the world's workers do not enjoy decent work conditions, and cannot lift themselves above the poverty line. The report points out that world leaders have still not made poverty reduction a priority. (ILO)

Behind Gold's Glitter: Torn Lands and Pointed Questions (October 24, 2005)

In past centuries, gold represented a valuable natural resource that strengthened empires, economies and currencies. Nowadays, more than 80% of gold mining activity serves rich countries' jewelry demand and it takes place mostly in poor countries. Toxic wastes from mining pollute oceans, rivers and soil, and gold mining companies are exposing workers to indecent and dangerous conditions. As this article points out, this should be too high a price for rings and necklaces. (New York Times)

The price of Cheap Beef: Disease, Deforestation, Slavery and Murder (October 18, 2005)

The EU and the US spend billions to subsidize their beef farmers, but these subsidies represent only a part of the problem of global beef trade. In 2004, the environmental impact of beef production reached intolerable levels and the expansion of cattle ranching destroyed 26000 sq km of the Amazon rain forest. The social impact is even worse: in Brazil, beef producers hire people to work in slave conditions and have been known to murder those who try to stop this destruction. Maybe, as the author suggests, "we shouldn't be eating beef at all." (Guardian)

ICFTU Annual Survey: Grim Global Catalogue of Anti-Union Repression (October 18, 2005)

Neoliberal economists maintain that an open market will bring more freedom and wealth for everyone. The 2005 annual survey from the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions shows that, in reality, neoliberal policies undermine labor rights. Analyzing different levels of repression, the document stresses that trade unionists "continue to face imprisonment, dismissal and discrimination" worldwide, particularly in Export Processing Zones. Nordic countries represent the only model where competitive economies relate directly to strong respect for workers' rights. (ICFTU)

"In a Situation Like This, Who Cares About Human Rights?" (October 5, 2005)

The World Bank views Export Processing Zones (EPZ) as an excellent option for poor countries to join the global market. This article describes the conditions of an EPZ on the outskirts of Nairobi, where workers earn three dollars a day without any form of benefits. Rather than liberate people worldwide, the free market has created a new slavery. (Inter Press Service)

The Global Labor Threat (September 29, 2005)

Policy makers and economists supporting neoliberal globalization have always argued that low wages of poor countries represent an excellent opportunity for these countries to compete in the global market. However, competition has also brought down wages in rich countries, accelerating the race against the bottom on a global level and making it harder for all workers to afford a decent life. Focusing on the US workers' situation, this article calls for the establishment of "fair and just rules that make the economy work for all." (TomPaine)

The IFI's Role in Implementing Global Commitments to Achieve the Millennium Development Goals (September 2005)

The International Financial Institutions (IFI) continue imposing "privatization of public services and unilateral trade liberalization, attached to debt relief and other assistance" on recipient countries. This Global Unions statement to the 2005 Annual Meeting of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, argues that IFI lending and policy recommendations "should give priority to decent employment creation, comprehensive social protection, and respect of core labour standards." (Global Unions)

Gold Miners Exploit Children (August 26, 2005)

Niger has ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child and its national law also bans child labor. However, 63% of Niger's population lives below the poverty line and, in the absence of school feeding programs, children represent a significant portion of the workforce. This article urges the global community to strengthen the International Labor Organization and to promote binding rules to ensure these children a future. (Inter Press Service)

International Unions Gather in Chicago to Craft Strategy (August 20, 2005)

In the present context of states ceding some of their traditional powers to transnational corporations, workers need to organize their efforts at a global level to maintain their fundamental rights. In response to this challenge, the Union Network International's annual convention convenes in Chicago. Fifteen hundred delegates from 150 countries meet to discuss labor strategies and ways to promote unionization and collaboration over international borders. (Reuters)

Anti-Labour Violence Isn't Random (August 5, 2005)

The conflict between classes did not vanish with the fall of the Berlin Wall. The neoliberal view of trade unions and labor rights as a barrier to the free market, motivated the violent repression of workers by Indian police at Honda Motorcycle and Scooter Limited in the Haryana region. This article calls for radical changes to upgrade and enforce minimum wages, regulate working conditions and promote workers' participation in decision-making. (Economic Times)

Informed Consumers Can Improve Sweatshops (July 15, 2005)

The US-based apparel company Gap, long a target for labor rights activists, has begun to publish reports that contain detailed and accurate data on working conditions in its supplier factories. However, most other companies still refuse to release information on how well their suppliers comply with corporate codes of conduct. As long as there is no legislation or UN resolution requiring businesses to disclose such data, consumers play a central role in pressuring corporations to do that, argues this San Francisco Chronicle opinion piece. (San Francisco Chronicle)

ILO Director-General Says Global Jobs Crisis Puts Democracy, Freedom at Risk (June 6, 2005)

Although global trade increased by US$ 4 trillion over 2004, the extra capital has not translated to a reduction in global unemployment. Instead, the global economy is only creating "a trickle" of sustainable jobs, while the "open wound" of forced labor festers in the global economy. If the international community wants to see poverty alleviated, argues the ILO Director-General, "we must move employment and decent work fully into the mainstream of the international development debate." (International Labor Organization News)

Protectionism And Free Trade (May 31, 2005)

This article highlights the hidden effects of the Dominican Republic-Central American Free Trade Agreement (DR-CAFTA), focusing on how it will affect US and Central American laborers. While the Bush administration insists that increased trade will benefit everyone, the issue remains: what kind of trade is the Bush administration promoting, and for whose benefit? The concern is not free trade versus protectionism, but "smart trade" versus "polarizing trade." (TomPaine)

Forced Labor Said to Bind 12.3 Million People Around the World (May 12, 2005)

The International Labor Organization (ILO) has released its first comprehensive study on forced labor. According to the report, three-quarters of the world's 12.3 million forced laborers live in Asia, most of them coerced into bonded labor because of debts. While most forced laborers in poor countries are employed in agriculture, domestic work and factories, the majority of the 360,000 forced laborers in industrialized nations work in the sex trade. ILO estimates that human trafficking, which frequently accompanies forced labor, has increased in recent years because of eased travel and border regulations. (New York Times)

Shopping with Conscience (May 11, 2005)

A growing number of companies are producing "sweatshop free" goods for consumers who want to shop with a conscience. Most of the customers are young professionals, interested in fashion and willing to spend more if it means an ethical purchase. These companies are essentially interested in a "revenue stream with ethics" hoping to sell some ideas along with their sneakers. While the "heightened awareness" is only among a small percentage of shoppers, companies and customers alike hope to increase the number of people "who care about how and where their clothes are made." (Christian Science Monitor)

Chiquita's Children (May 10, 2005)

Back in the 1970s and 1980s, thousands of Nicaraguan agricultural workers were exposed to a strong pesticide called Nemagon that fruit companies Dole, Del Monte and Chiquita used to protect their banana crops. The workers, who now suffer from kidney failure, cancer, diminishing eyesight and weakening bones, are waging a long-running legal battle against the transnational giants that refuse to pay for the damage. (In These Times)

The Ethical Revolution Sweeping Through the World's Sweatshops (April 16, 2005)

After a decade of adamant attempts to deny any wrongdoing, multinational clothing companies like Nike and Gap are beginning to admit that they have abused and exploited their workers. At the same time, anti-sweatshop activists have moved away from organizing boycotts and demonstrations, and now co-operate more with companies and labor unions to improve the conditions and increase the pay of apparel workers. (Independent)

Union Files Wal-Mart Complaint (April 13, 2005)

The United Food and Commercial Workers Union has filed an unfair labor practice complaint against Wal-Mart, accusing the retailer of paying people for monitoring union activity. The action came after an ousted board member of Wal-Mart maintained that the company had spent up to $500,000 on anti-union activities. Wal-Mart, which has successfully torpedoed workers' attempts to unionize at its 3,000 stores in the US, called the union claims "pure fantasy." (Washington Post)

A Side Order of Human Rights (April 6, 2005)

Consumers and fast food giants that are among the biggest purchasers of fresh produce in the US hold the keys to preventing labor abuses, says this New York Times op-ed piece. After farm workers in Immokalee, Florida, successfully targeted Taco Bell with a boycott, the company agreed to increase the wages of migrant workers and impose a strict code of conduct on its tomato suppliers. Other fast food companies should now follow suit, argues the author. (New York Times)

The Real Record on Workers' Rights in Central America (April 2005)

This American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) report criticizes the proposed Central American Free Trade Agreement for failing to protect workers' rights. The agreement allows governments to maintain labor laws that are far below the International Labor Organization standards and provides no mechanism to enforce existing legislation. In its current form, the agreement may boost corporate profits, but "leave workers and communities out in the cold," the report says. (AFL-CIO)

ILO to Crack Whip on Junta (March 25, 2005)

Despite the Burmese government's promises to introduce laws banning forced labor, the violations have continued. The International Labor Organization (ILO) currently estimates that over 800,000 people in Burma are victims of forced labor and threatens to impose sanctions against the country if the government does not clean up its act. (Inter Press Service)

US: Taco Bell, Farm Workers Reach Agreement (March 8, 2005)

The Coalition of Immokalee Workers has called off its three-year-long boycott against Taco Bell. The decision comes after the company finally agreed to pay Floridian farm workers one cent more per pound for tomatoes. The increase that bears little financial significance for the company will almost double the yearly salaries of the roughly 1,000 workers employed by Taco Bell suppliers. "It would mean almost reaching the poverty level," a representative of the Immokalee workers commented. (Associated Press)


International Labor Organizations (September 18, 2000)

In this extensive paper for the Columbia University Labor Seminar, Sumner Rosen details the global history of labor rights, from the first inter-union cooperations and Communist Internationals to the recent developments within the ILO. An excellent introduction to the topic. (Columbia University Labor Seminar)




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