Global labour rights

Source: New Unionism Network
Today’s new unionists are beginning to organize the precariat – workers without security. To say this latter group represents the most rapidly growing sector in society entirely misses the point. The labour force has fundamentally changed. And according to many labour analysts, the real jolt is still to come. December 2009. [see more]
A child in a Chinese sweatshop and a clerk in a US office working for the same company are subject to very different labour regulations. In the global economy global labour standards are not yet a priority of the international community. Transnational corporations (TNCs) benefit from the recent wave of trade liberalization and increasingly shift their operations to countries with low wages and limited labour rights. The lack of labour rights and trade unions along with a cheap and flexible labour force becomes an important bargaining factor in the competition for foreign direct investment. TNCs often use their power to push down wages and conditions of employment in return for investment. In particular labour-intensive and dangerous production has moved to countries where labour rights are disregarded.

As TNCs spread their operations across more and more countries, global labour rights become increasingly important. In 1998, the International Labour Organization (ILO) adopted the “Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work”. The adoption of the declaration marked a renewed commitment of the member states to respect, promote and realize principles such as the freedom of association, the right to collective bargaining, elimination of all forms of forced labour, abolition of child labour, and elimination of discrimination in employment and occupation. International regulations, however, remain a weak instrument in the struggle for global labour rights as many countries do not enforce them even if they have ratified the conventions in question. Therefore, NGOs try to hold companies who ignore basic labour rights at any stage of the production process directly responsible. For example, they initiate boycott campaigns, such as the appeal to boycott Nike in response to the appoling conditions in production sites of the sportswear giant. In reaction, many corporations nowadays have adopted a Code of Conduct that deals with the rights of their employees. Multinationals, however, often outsource production and claim not to be responsible for labour standards in the factories of their subcontractors, while they still profit from the low labour costs and the disrespect for basic human rights in the workplace.

Traditionally, labour rights are the domain of trade unions and these have a long history of fighting for workers’ rights, mainly within a state, although there has been international co-operation among unions since the 19th century. With the globalization of the economy, more NGOs are engaging in the struggle for global labour rights along with trade unions who increasingly co-operate across national borders and within particular industries. Until recently, trade unions in the North were mainly concerned with the loss of jobs in their countries, claiming that low labour standards in other countries represented an unfair advantage. NGOs have been more concerned about labour rights in the South, which deteriorated even further after more TNCs moved their production to developing countries. Lately, NGOs and trade unions in the North as well as in the South have improved their co-operation across national boundaries to promote global labour rights, although there are still conflicts between the different interests. This said, however, the line between trade unions and NGOs is sometimes somewhat blurred, especially in many developing countries.

Trade unions and NGOs agree on basic global labor rights, which should include, for example, the freedom of association, collective bargaining, abolition of forced labour, equal opportunities for women and men, and safe working conditions. These basic principles are often violated, for instance, in sweatshops and Export Processing Zones. In this context we can identify women and children as particular vulnerable groups, who are regularly abused and exploited. In view of the lack of commitment by TNCs regarding international legislation, labour activists engage in fair trade and other initiatives to realize global labour rights.
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Thursday, December 03 2009
Precariat meet’n'greet
(Source: New Unionism Network)
Wednesday, June 03 2009
Call for "global jobs pact" amidst rising job losses
(Source: South-north Development Monitor (SUNS))
Tuesday, May 26 2009
Mobilize for an ILO Convention on the rights of domestic workers
(Source: International Domestic Workers' Network)

International organizations and trade unions

New Unionism Network

International Trade Union Confederation - ITUC (ITUC)

World Confederation of Labour (WCL)

Global Unions

International Labour Organization (ILO)

Information resources

The decent work deficit (Third World Network - TWN)

Globalisation and Labour Standards (GALS)


The International Labour Organization: A handbook for minorities and indigenous peoples (Antislavery International)

Civil society organizations in the North

Global Workplace

Clean Clothes Campaign

Make Trade Fair

Fair Olympics


Maquila Solidarity Network

Central American Women’s Network (CAWN)

Sweatshop Watch

Global Labour Institute

Anti-Slavery International

National Labor Committee (NLC)

Campaign for Labor Rights (CLR)

The International Centre for Trade Union Rights (ICTUR)

Fields of Hope

No Sweat

HomeNet International

Where our clothes are made: sweatshops

Women exploiting women (National Labor Committee)

Labour standards: who's got the universal code? (Maquila Solidarity Network)

Behind the labels: garment workers on US Saipan (Witness)

Bound by promises: contemporary slavery in rural Brazil (Witness)

Offside! Labor rights and sportswear production in Asia (Oxfam)

Asia: end of textile agreement spells huge job losses (IPS)

Sweatshops and globalisation: an activist response (No Sweat)

We are not machines: Indonesian Nike and Adidas workers (Maquila Solidarity)

Still waiting for Nike to do it (Global Exchange)

Report on the working conditions of football and soccer workers in mainland China (Clean Clothes Campaign)

Play fair at the Olympics: Report about the sportswear industry (Fairolympics)

The labour behind the label: How our cloths are made (Maquila Solidarity Network)

The situation of women workers

Mobilize for an ILO Convention on the rights of domestic workers (International Domestic Workers' Network)

Unions demand respect and rights for domestic workers (IUF / IRENE)

Key feminist concerns regarding core labor standards, decent work and corporate social responsibility (WIDE)

Women's contribution to equality in Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC)

Female workers lose rights under liberalisation (TWN Africa)

Patterns of change: global labour rights in the garment industry (Choike)

Progress of the world's women 2005: women, work and poverty (UNIFEM)

International labour standards concerning women workers (ILO)

Women's work in Export Processing Zones and in the informal economy (Clean Clothes Campaign)

Gender and labour market liberalisation in Africa (African Labour and Research Network (ALRN))

A migrant world of services (Oxford University Press)

Trading away our rights: Women working in global supply chains (Oxfam - Make Trade Fair)

Trade liberalisation and the rights of women workers: Are social clauses the answer? (Women Working Worldwide)

Women’s rights – workers’ rights (American Federation of Labor – Congress of Industrial Organizations)

Working women in China – second class workers (China Labour Bulletin)

Problems faced by women working in Sri Lanka’s Export Processing Zones (Asian Monitor Resource Center)

Solidarity: Women workers unite (Global Workplace)

Slavery today: forms of forced and bonded labour

The cost of coercion (International Labor Organization)

More than 12 million live in modern slavery (ILO)

Forced labour in Brazil (Third World Network)

What is modern slavery?

Forced Labour in the 21st century (International Confederation of Free Trade Unions)

Slave Trade or Fair Trade? The problem, the solution and how you can take action (Antislavery International)

Bonded labour and the tea plantation economy (Revolutionary Democracy)

Bonded child labour (Child Right)


Book: "Labour, social movements and emancipation in the 21st Century"

The future of organised labour - global perspectives (Peter Lang Publishing Group)

Trade union-NGO relations

Work and/or life?

The rise and rise of NGOs (Public Services International)

Developing a crucial social movement triangle (Choike)

Union organisations, social movements and the augean stables of global governance

Strengthening trade unionism is necessary (World Confederation of Labour)

Trade Union internationalism and a global civil society in the making

Trade Unions, NGOs and Global Social Justice: Another Tale to Tell

Civil society groups in the South

Transnational Information Exchange Asia (TIE Asia)

Asia Monitor Resource Centre (AMRC)

The Asian Workers Occupational Health, Safety and Environment Institute

Asia-Pacific Occupational Safety and Health Organization (APOSHO)

Committee for Asian Women

Child Workers in Asia

China Labour Bulletin (CLB)

Thai Labour Campaign

Pakistan Institute of Labour Education & Research

SALIGAN – Alternative Legal Assistance Center

India Resource Center

Informal Sector Service Center (INSEC)

Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA)

Frente Auténtico del Trabajo (FAT)


Landless Workers Movement: Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra

Batay Ouvriye

Centre for Rural Legal Studies (CLRS)

Development Institute for Training, Support & Education for Labour (Ditsela)


The global dimension of labour rights

Precariat meet’n'greet (New Unionism Network)

Call for "global jobs pact" amidst rising job losses ( South-north Development Monitor (SUNS))

The networked internationalism of labour's others

Annual survey of trade union rights violations (ICFTU)

Africa: informal economy workers left out of decision making processes (War on Want, WEAZ and AZIEA)

Toward a global labour charter for the 21th Century

Global civil society: a concept worth defining, a terrain worth disputing (NIGD)

Globalization failing to reduce poverty, says ILO (Third World Network Features)

ICFTU Annual Survey: Grim global catalogue of anti-union repression (ICFTU)

Status of ratifications of fundamental ILO Conventions (Social Watch Report 2005)

Making a mess abroad: the foreign aid policy of the 'decidedly internationalist' AFL-CIO

Global unions with the Global Campaign Against Poverty (GCAP) (ICFTU)

Decent work and the Millenium Development Goals (ICFTU)

Southern solidarity: why developing countries must unite to fight violation of labour rights (ID21)

Global survey charts the spread of anti-union repression (ICFTU)

ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work

The Global Work Place. Challenging the race to the bottom.

Thinking globally, but acting locally (The International Centre for Trade Union Rights)

Union strategies for the promotion of global labour rights: The social clause proposal (Society for the Promotion of Human Rights in Employment)

Bombarded by bilateral trade & investment agreements (Transnational Exchange Network Asia)

May Day Manifesto 2004 (International Confederation of Free Trade Unions)

Mapping trade union rights: freedom of association worldwide (International Centre for Trade Union Rights)

The global home of manufacturing: Export Processing Zones

Sector specific living wage for Sri Lankan apparel industry workers (ALaRM)

Toys of misery 2004 (National Labor Committee (NLC))

"Behind the Brands": new ICFTU report on export processing zones (ICFTU)

Manufacturing poverty: Export Processing Zones in Kenya (Pambazuka)

Guide to Export Processing Zones (Business & Human Rights Resource Center)

Resource Center: Maquilas / Export Processing Zones (Maquila Solidarity)

Export Processing Zones – Symbols of exploitation and a development dead-end (International Confederation of Free Trade Unions)

Export Processing Zones and the quest for development: a Southern African perspective (Global Policy Network)

The organized labour free (trade zones) in Sri Lanka (Transnational Information Network Asia)

Child labour

GAP slave kids is a gloomy reality of Indian growing economy (Global March Against Child Labour)

The end of child labour: within reach (ILO)

Children and Youth workers Association (Associazione NATS)

World day against child labour (ILO)

The subterranean child labour force: Subcontracted home based manufacturing in Asia (UNICEF)

ILO: International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC)

Child labour and obstacles to organizing on Ecuador's banana plantations

Abuses against child domestic workers in El Salvador (Human Rights Watch)

The toy industry: made for children by children (International Right To Know Campaign)

Child labour in China: Causes and solutions (China Labour Bulletin)

Eliminating Child Labour: Not As Simple As It Seems (Maquila Solidarity Network)

The future of labour rights: Corporate accountability and fair trade

Final trade union statement on the WTO Hong Kong agenda (ICFTU)

The future of labour rights: Corporate accountability and fair trade

Another understanding of work

International labour studies in the light of social justice and solidarity

Exploring preacariousness: a special section on the politics of precarious labour (MetaMute)

From decent work to the liberation of life from work (Info Exchange)

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