The International Labour Organization oversees labor standards internationally in a tripartite manner that combines worker, employer, and government input. It allows government bodies to ratify conventions for better labor standards within different realms including child labor, cooperatives, decent work, domestic workers, economic and social development, employment promotion, employment security, equality and discrimination, forced labor, freedom of association, green jobs, HIV/AIDS, industries and sectors, labor law, labor inspection and administration, labor migration, maritime labor, Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), rural development, safety and health at work, skills, knowledge, and employability, social security, working conditions, and youth employment.
For information on the full ILO Labor Code, including the NORMLEX – Database on International Labor Standards and NATLEX – database of national labor, social security and related human rights legislation.
For information on ILO protocols relating to child labor, including a description of Convention No. 138 on the minimum age for admission to employment and work, and Convention No. 182 on the worst forms of child labor.
For ratifications on ILO Convention No. 182 on the worst forms of child labor, see (C 182) child labor standards ratifications.
This is a convention in the United Nations that specifies specific human rights given to children worldwide including the right to protection from economic exploitation and the right to education.
A description of inherent dignity and inalienable human rights designated to every human being worldwide, The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was produced by the United Nations. In particular, Article 23 and Article 24 have special relations to workers’ rights.
- Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.
- Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.
- Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.
- Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.
Everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay.
Produced by the United Nations, the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights intends to uphold the rights of all humanity. Particularly, Article 6, Article 7, and Article 8 have direct relation to workers’ rights.
The European Commission extends rights to European Union workers that include health and safety at work, equal opportunities for women and men, protection against discrimination, and labor law. Each member of the European Union must have national law that at least covers these criteria.
Protecting Workers' Rights for Specific Groups
- Partnership to increase indigenous workers’ rights in Mexico
DePaul University’s International Human Rights Law Institute has partnered with a Mexican NGO, the Centro de Derechos Humanos y Asesoria a Pueblos Indigenas (CEDHAPI), to provide legal training for employers and indigenous workers on labor rights.
- Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) brings attention to indigenous workers
The ACTU has called for government intervention to increase the rights of indigenous workers in Australia. These workers are currently experiencing restrictions on access to employment and decent wages and conditions.
- Inter-American Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
This draft of the Inter-American Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was approved by the Inter American Commission on Human Rights. It includes the rights of indigenous peoples as workers.
- El Salvador: Indigenous migrant workers demand labor rights
Indigenous migrant workers in El Salvador and Nicaragua met to discuss the discrimination of indigenous peoples and formulate a set of demands to improve their situation.
- Bolivia’s Indigenous Workers
This PBS video explains the challenges facing Bolivia’s indigenous workers, especially those that farm coca.
- Indigenous Undocumented Farmworkers Left Out of Health Care Reform
The Affordable Care Act leaves out a huge portion of farmworkers in America, including indigenous undocumented workers.
- The situation of farm workers in Guatemala
Farmworkers in Guatemala, a large proportion being indigenous peoples, work under terrible conditions, even to the point of literal slavery and death.
- Indigenous women workers with case studies from Bangladesh, Nepal, and the Americas
The International Labor Organization (ILO) provides case studies from Bangladesh, Nepal, and nations of Latin America to outline the extreme discrimination and hardships experienced by indigenous women workers in those areas.
- Women and the environment
This United Nations Population Fund article explains how environmental degradation affects women, as citizens and as workers.
- Poverty, Pollution and Environmental Racism: Strategies for Building Healthy and Sustainable Communities
Dr. Robert Bullard outlines how certain races and socioeconomic groups are subjected to discrimination in terms of environmental hazards. In the context of workers’ rights, Bullard states that these groups are obliged to work in such environments and handle toxic chemicals.
- Environmental damage and human rights abuses blight global tea sector
This article outlines significant negative effects of tea production that lead to both environmental damage and worker’s abuse.
- The Indian mining sector: Effects on the environment & FDI Inflows
This article outlines the extreme environmental destruction that occurs due to mining. It also evaluates the surrounding safety issues that affect workers.
- Documentary on labor rights in Azerbaijan: Without hands
This is a shocking short documentary that provides a first-hand account of unsafe working conditions in Azerbaijan. It is told by a man who suffered the loss of both his arms while working.
- Oil Workers’ Rights Protection Organization
The Oil Workers’ Rights Protection Organization seeks to establish better conditions for workers in Azerbaijan’s oil sector, of which it has been said there has been massive human rights abuses.
- U.S. Government Human Rights Report 2010
In regard to workers’ rights, reporters in Azerbaijan have reported cases that exempted workers from many of their rights, the seizure of union dues, the lack of freedom to bargain collectively over wages and working conditions, and the inability of workers to remove themselves from situations they deemed unsafe without jeopardizing their employment.
- 2012 Annual Survey of Violations of Trade Union Rights
Reported by the International Trade Union Confederation, this report summarized the ILO Core Conventions ratified and violations by Azerbaijan.
- Bolivia’s Indigenous Workers
This PBS documentary focuses on workers’ rights issues faced by indigenous workers in Bolivia, such as in the coca farming industry.
- Child Workers of Bolivia, Unite!
The movement of child workers in Bolivia toward unionizing is intended to improve working conditions in a country that has over one million children working for remuneration.
- 2012 Annual Survey of Violations of Trade Union Rights-Bolivia
The International Trade Union Confederation has compiled this summary of ratified ILO Core Conventions by Bolivia and the state of workers’ rights within the country.
- Sex workers call for legalization of sex work in Bolivia
Some Bolivian women are fighting for legalization of sex work and retirement benefits and health insurance for such workers.
- When You Build a Small Roof for the Dog” by Julia Wallace
This article focuses on the dangers and abuses occurring in Cambodia’s garment sector including building safety, short contract employment to avoid benefits, and union busting.
- Solidarity Center-Cambodia
The Solidarity Center of the AFL-CIO partners with unions and other interested groups in Cambodia with an aim towards better workers’ rights in the country. Here, especially, decades of war and strife have left Cambodia and it people in economic distress.
- The UN Refugee Agency- The Global State of Workers’ Rights: Cambodia
This 2010 report suggests that the state of workers’ rights in Cambodia is repressive. Specific examples include poor labor law enforcement, union leader harassment and even murders targeting members of the largest union in the country. Specifically, there is no labor law coverage for teachers.
- Monitoring in the Dark: Improving Factory Working Conditions in Cambodia
This study focuses on the problems surrounding the Better Factories Cambodia (BFC) monitoring program, along with the widening use of the program in other countries. Authors of the final report contemplate how the program may be failing garment workers in several countries.
- War on Want- Restricted Rights: Migrant Women Workers in Thailand, Cambodia, and Malaysia
This report provides insight on the appalling conditions women face in Thailand, Cambodia, and Malaysia, forced to migrate due to both poverty and political oppression.
- Labour Law Regulations Valid in the Czech Republic
See this article for brief summaries of the main labor law regulations in the Czech Republic.
- National Labour Law Profile: The Czech Republic
International Labor Organization report of the Czech Republic in relation to labor law.
- The UN Refugee Agency- The Global State of Workers’ Rights: Czech Republic
This UN agency offers a summary of the state of workers’ rights in the Czech Republic. It states that the Czech Republic’s labor laws are some of the strictest in Europe, that they allow trade unionization and workers may assemble peacefully.
- March for Migrants’ Rights in the Czech Republic This short video provides footage on the first march for the rights of migrant workers in the Czech Republic.
- El Salvador has been categorized as having low standards for workers’ rights. The country is considered to have weak labor laws, low protection for freedom of association, legal loopholes for labor laws combined with a failure of the ministry of labor to enforce labor laws. For workers, there are serious obstacles to judicial enforcement of these laws.
- The International Labor Rights Forum has found many labor rights violations in El Salvador including the right to associate, the right to bargain collectively, child labor, wages, hours, and working conditions.
- Human Rights Watch reported physical, psychological, and sexual abuses against women and children domestic workers in El Salvador. These include food deprivation, forced confinement, and trafficking into forced labor.
- Child labor continues in the sugarcane industry in El Salvador, a country supplying sugar to companies such as the Coca Cola Company. Children typically suffer greatly in this type of work, with common injuries coming as a result of the use of machetes and knives to cut the sugarcane.
- The U.S-Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) was introduced by President George W. Bush in 2004. This agreement lacks commonplace provisions for the protection of workers. As result, El Salvador has been experiencing several negative effects described here by Human Rights Watch.
- The United States Department of Labor has funded projects to support workers in El Salvador.
- El Salvadorian workers typically make extremely low wages in the country’s sweatshops. As an example, women have been paid only eight cents an hour for each $25 NFL shirt that they make in an Ocean Sky sweatshop.
- El Salvadorian indigenous peoples have been denied basic labor rights and, as a result, they are increasingly demanding changes from the government.
- Chinese Workers—In Greenland?
Greenland is exploiting more of its natural resources and the country’s officials now plan to have more and more Chinese migrant workers move to the island to work at the mining plants.
- The Greenland Working Environment Act
The Greenland Working Environment Act outlines the law protecting the rights of workers.
- Relaxation of labour rules for large-scale projects in Greenland
Greenland is lowering labor standards for construction surrounding the mining industry in order to attract foreign investment.
- It has been reported that India both in law and practice does not uphold basic labor rights including the right to collectively bargain and violations of child labor.
- Many workers within this country have not experienced the right to freedom of association, and in one case in February 2013 over 140 workers were detained in jail as a result of an attempt to organize for better working conditions.
- There is a high prevalence of child labor in the Indian soccer ball industry.
- In 2012, millions of Indian workers went on strike to demand protection of their labor rights and were backed by all 11 major trade unions in the country.
- Unionization in India’s informal sector is much lower than in the formal sector. This leaves 90 percent of India’s workforce at risk greater for exploitation.
- It is common for workers to be paid very low wages. Workers at a General Motors plant were only paid between 47 to 92 cents an hour.
- Conditions in India’s garment industry have been reported to be especially dire. It is typical for workers also to labor under unsafe working conditions and even threats.
- The International Commission for Labor Rights (ICLR) release a report in June 2013 alleging workers’ rights and trade union rights violations at the Mansear plant of Maruti Suzuki India Ltd (MSIL). Read the June 28, 2013 article by Immanuel Ness via the Labor and Working Class History Association (LAWCHA).
- Indian sex workers strive to be recognized as full workers and to have their rights as workers upheld.
Pakistan’s ship cemetery scraps worker rights
This short video describes workers’ rights abuses occurring in a ship cemetery in Pakistan.
If You Believe
Documentaries help to educate viewers about the estimated 1.7 million bonded laborers in Pakistan.
Basic Rights for Pakistan’s Domestic Workers: A Signature Away
This article from the Daily Times addresses the issues facing domestic workers, particularly women, in Pakistan.
Pakistan: Historic victory for workers’ rights and democracy
The Labour Quami Movement (LQM) in the power-loom industry initiated a march demanding that their employers pay the federal minimum wage. Such action spurred government action which resulted in a significant increase in their wages.
U.S. Government Human Rights Report 2010
In relation to workers’ rights, reports have been issued stating difficulties surrounding requirements for labor union formation, union intimidation, and complications in the right to strike. There are also widespread minimum wage violations.
U.S.-Panama Free Trade Agreement
The International Labor Rights Forum provides a summary of the U.S.-Panama Free Trade Agreement, including concerns regarding workers’ rights in association with it.
Panama’s Unraveling Democracy: The Social Cost of Martinelli’s Chorizo Law
The Council on Hemispheric Affairs Research Associate, Alexander Brockwehl, offers insights into the severe suppression of workers’ rights in Panama.
UN Women- Better Working Conditions for Domestic Workers in Paraguay
Domestic workers in Paraguay have faced discriminated against and legally may only receive forty percent of the country’s minimum wage. However, activist groups campaigning around this issue are attempting to raise awareness of the struggles of Paraguay’s domestic workers, many of whom are women living in poverty.
ILO- Paraguay Ratifies the Domestic Workers Convention
On May 7, 2013 Paraguay ratified the Domestic Workers Convention which will legally allow domestic workers additional rights.
UN Refugee Agency- Report on Human Rights Practices in Paraguay for 2012
According to this UN report, women, LGBTA, disabled persons, indigenous persons, people of African descent, and other marginalized groups continue to face workplace discrimination and have extreme trouble finding work.
Employees’ Rights and Employers’ Obligations in Puerto Rico
The Society for Human Resource Management provides a summary of differences between the rights of employees and obligations of employers in Puerto Rico compared to most states in the United States. Some significant differences include aspects related to the termination of employment.
Puerto Rico’s Public Service Workers Win Back Rights
In May 2011, public service workers were able to win back the right to collectively bargain and negotiate economic aspects of their contracts after such rights were suspended in 2009.
Puerto Rico Workers Protest Privatization
Here is a summary of the battle against the privatization of public sector electricity that Puerto Ricans face due to the commonwealth’s economic troubles.
SEIU protest surround concern over a similar situation ten years earlier.
Puerto Rican Farm Workers in Connecticut
A sizable population of Puerto Ricans have immigrated to Connecticut, and they work primarily in the agricultural sector. This article outlines their experiences from the late 19th century through the 1990s.
Puerto Rican Minimum Wage
This summary states that the Puerto Rican minimum wage is only $4.10/hour, much lower than the federal minimum wage which takes precedent.
Workers’ Rights in South Africa: Does the Ruling ANC Party Represent the People?
The government of South Africa still does not represent the interest of the people, many argue, but rather those of large multi-national companies investing in the country. Workers struggle to make ends meet as a result.
The South African Labour guide website provides information regarding labor law in South Africa.
This article reflects the perspective of South Africa’s government officials regarding workers’ rights as well as the value South Africans put on May Day and what it represents.
Ripe with Abuse: Human Rights Conditions in South Africa’s Fruit and Wine Industries
This Human Rights Watch report analyzes the workers’ rights abuses faced by farmers in South Africa producing the country’s renowned wine.
The Northern Mariana Islands
Capital Crimes: Abramoff, Inc.
This article explains that the Northern Mariana Islands, although officially territories of the United States, are exempt from U.S. minimum wage and immigration laws. Nevertheless, imported workers labor under slave-like conditions in Chinese-owned factories while producing products under the “Made in the U.S.A” label.
Made in the U.S.A.? — Hard Labor on a Pacific Island/A special report.; Saipan Sweatshops Are No American Dream
The New York Times reports on the Saipan sweatshops in the Northern Mariana Islands where popular clothing brands also produce under the “Made in the U.S.A.” label.
Former sweatshop worker from Saipan speaks about conditions
This video captures a first-hand account of the sweatshop conditions experience in Saipan factories.
The Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights provides a summary of the horrible labor conditions in U.S. territory the American Samoa.
American Samoa: Abuses Cited at Apparel Plant that Supplied U.S. Retailers
This article by Steven Greenhouse of the New York Times speaks of the terrible labor rights abuses that have occurred at the Korean Daewoosa factory in the American Samoa.
Women Fighting for the Rights of Uzbek Migrant Workers
Uzbek activists, Matabar Tajibaeva and Shakhida Yakub, are fighting for the rights of Uzbek migrant workers who are confronting the possibility of being placed in detention centers in Russia.
“Uzbekistan: Forced Labor Widespread in Cotton Harvest”
This Human Rights Watch article provides information about Uzbekistan state authorities forcing its citizens, both adults and older children, to pick cotton during its harvest in response to widespread international attention on the use of small children to do so.
Freedom House Lists Uzbekistan Among 17 Worst Countries
Freedom House, a human rights organization, has listed Uzbekistan as one of the 17 least free countries in the world due to its suppression of political dissent and civic activity.
Forced Child Labor in the Cotton Sector
Between 1.5 and 2 million children are forced annually into the cotton fields of Uzbekistan while powerful foreign countries benefit off cotton trading imports.
“Kids Hard at Work in Uzbekistan’s Cotton Fields”
See the included video of small children having to work in Uzbekistan’s cotton fields.