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Labour Rights Defenders

Labour rights activism makes societies fairer by addressing the imbalance of power between corporations and workers and improving working conditions.  It is also at the heart of the broader struggle for human rights and social justice. Several examples of human rights movements that have been led and supported by labour rights groups include: coalitions to rebuild democracy in Honduras after a coup; the mobilizing of workers in Tunisia, Egypt and Bahrain during the Arab uprisings; and the pro-democracy movement in Zimbabwe, led by the country’s labour federation. Yet today across the globe, we are witnessing a mounting erosion of space for worker organizing and violence against labour rights defenders which negatively affects all human rights movements and requires cross-movement and cross-sector collaboration to address. Distinctions are sometimes made between labour rights defenders (including trade unions and other workers' representatives) and human rights defenders, but as former UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Assembly and Association Maina Kiai expressed: these distinctions are artificial. Labour rights are human rights, and any person or organisation defending them is a human rights defender as articulated in the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders. As Sharan Burrow, the Secretary-General of the ITUC, put it: “Workers and their unions are the defenders of rights and freedoms.” This page collects the latest news on restrictions on worker organizing and labour rights defenders and highlights company statements in support of labour activists and freedom of association, company implementation of related commitments, and guidance for governments and companies.

Labour organizing under attack

383

Arrests, beatings, threats & killings

Number of attacks on labour rights defenders in our database (2015-2020)

4,870

Targeted for dismissal during COVID-19

Number of unionised garment workers targeted for dismissal by 9 factories supplying major fashion brands

80%

Countries

Number of countries violating the right to collective bargaining (ITUC Global Rights Index 2020)

89

Countries

Number of countries which impeded the registration of unions (ITUC Global Rights Index 2020)

Featured contents

New report shows garment factories supplying major fashion brands are using COVID-19 as a cover to crackdown on trade unions

This report analyses the response by nine global apparel brands - H&M, Primark, Inditex (Zara), Levi Strauss & Co., MANGO, BESTSELLER, Michael Kors, Tory Burch and Kate Spade (Tapestry) - to allegations that garment factories in their supply chain are using COVID-19 as a cover to target and dismiss unionised workers in Cambodia, Myanmar, Bangladesh and India.

ITUC 2020 Global Rights Index shows 80 % of countries violated the right to collectively bargain

The ITUC’s 2020 Global Rights Index reveals that violation of workers’ rights is at a seven year high, warning that the fallout of Covid-19 could bring further setbacks. Job shortages may force workers to accept poor working conditions and employers may use the cover of redundancies to fire union members. Many countries have also amended or suspended labour laws, leaving workers vulnerable to exploitation.

Webinar: Defending rights in times of COVID-19 - Workers' movements, trade unionism and labour rights

This webinar in Spanish, organized by IM-Defensoras, and part of the series "Defending rights in times of Covid-19" explores challenges and opportunities for workers' movements and unions in Mexico and Central America.