Paralegal Guide: Labor Rights
Globalization is a major influence on international labor and labor rights in general. An increase in global trade and distribution results in labor inequality. The highly competitive international market means that multinational corporations are constantly seeking to decrease wages and labor standards in order to produce more while saving money. Upholding labor rights is essential in achieving social justice and meeting human rights standards. The Guide to Labor Rights examines the history of labor rights, the rights of international workers, and current movements and issues in the world of labor.
History of Labor Rights
For thousands of years, the rights of workers were wholly ignored and precedence was given to employers and governments. The modern labor movement began during the industrial revolution. The industrial revolution resulted from increased concentrations of workers who experienced few fundamental rights and extremely poor working conditions. An increased number of workers meant that large unions were more viable, while the poor working conditions experienced provided impetus for improvement. Together, these factors influenced large-scale action.
Contributions to cultural perceptions about labor and working life continued to advance the labor movement. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, for instance, argued vehemently for the rights of workers and illustrated the disparity between classes. Worker’s rights were beginning to be realized. Eventually, basic rights such as minimum wage and the eight-hour work day were established. Figures such as Mary Harris Jones and Cesar Chavez revolutionized labor rights, albeit through significantly different methods. Achieving fair labor rights is a constant struggle, and is still continuing today.
International Workers’ Rights
Securing international workers’ rights is important to the development of a socially responsible world. Sometimes, protecting rights internationally can be fraught with complexities and challenges. Often, national governments attempt to prevent unionizing and organized activity. The impetus for such resistance lies in cheaper labor and increased power over working regulations and conditions. Those who attempt to unionize, or speak out against poor conditions are often retaliated against. National borders as well as cultural perceptions make achieving some universal goals difficult to realize.
In order to improve international labor rights, large-scale organizations such as the International Labour Organization and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights provide labor conventions to be agreed upon and adhered to. These organizations represent the interests of individuals who may otherwise be unable to promote their interests. It is also the responsibility of the international community to ensure that labor remains fair and safe for all.
- International Labor Rights Forum – An advocacy organization devoted to reaching just and humane treatment for workers everywhere. Through a few key projects, this group targets areas which require special attention.
- Alliance for Global Justice works to implement alternatives to unjust dominant power structures. Governments, global financial institutions, and multinational corporations are often responsible for denigrating populations of the world, which AFGJ is dedicated to preventing.
- The International Labour Organization is the organization responsible for overseeing international labor standards. An agency of the United Nations, the ILO works with governments, employers and workers in order to promote decent work for all.
- The Struggle for Workers Rights in Mexico – The Solidarity Center provides this highly detailed report which examines the struggle of workers in Mexico to achieve independent, democratic trade unions. Issues such as discrimination and child labor are also explored, while questions of the future of workers’ rights are considered.
- Text of the Convention Concerning Decent Work for Domestic Workers – This official document put forth by the International Labour Organization protects the rights of domestic workers internationally. Read the full text of the article in French, English, Spanish, or Italian.
- Nicaragua Network – NicaNet operates for the interests of the people of Nicaragua, and has done so for thirty years. Though based in the United States, this group is committed to the social justice of Nicaragua.
- Latin America Solidarity Coalition – The LASC is a collaboration of national and local Latin American and Caribbean solidarity groups which are dedicated to identifying common struggles. Further, this organization promotes peaceful reform, while providing critiques of internal issues of power dynamics.
- CISPES – The Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador raises awareness regarding pressing issues faced by El Salvadorans. Campaigns include an anti-mining movement, an anti-repression act and election/democracy based activities.
- Coalicion de Derechos Humanos which means “The Human Rights Coalition” promotes respect for human rights and challenges abuses of power carried out by local, state and federal law enforcement. A primary objective of this organization is to strengthen the ability of those in border and urban communities to participate in public policy.
- Confederation of Haitian Workers – The CTH is one of Haiti’s largest labor confederations which attempts to organize workers of many different sectors. Port workers and those from the garment sector comprise a significant portion of the group.
- China Labor Watch – An independent not-for-profit organization which is dedicated to promoting the fair redistribution of wealth for workers. CLW carries out in-depth assessments which detail conditions of factories in China which create products for some of the largest American companies.
Current Movements and Issues
While some developed nations see relatively little labor based activity, a large number of nations around the world provide volatile work environments and hotly debated labor laws. The rights of children, for instance, are often ignored. Nearly 158 million children around the world are estimated to be working. Many of those children have jobs which place them directly into harm’s way, frequently working with chemicals or dangerous machinery. Another increasingly debated topic revolves around the rights of others in unofficial employment such as domestic workers.Often comprised of ethnic minorities or internationally disparate workforces, those in domestic employment are likely to be exploited. Child labor and domestic work often overlap, but the issue is not limited to children. In many cases, members of the domestic workforce are live-in employees who are under constant control and receive unfair pay and treatment.
- Child Labor – There are currently an estimated 158 million children in the international workforce, meaning that one out of every six children in the world is working. Often, children are put into hazardous working conditions which involve dangerous chemicals, pesticides, or machinery.
- Child Labor Public Education Project – The University of Iowa hosts this website which educates users about the current child labor situation. Learn about the health issues associated with child labor, its causes, and international trade issues.
- Domestic Workers’ Rights – It is important to protect the rights of domestic workers around the world. Domestic workers are frequently exploited or abused. A huge initiative was adopted by the International Labour Organization which extends the protection of labor rights that often go ignored.
- Social Justice and Economic Development – German Chancellor Merkel contends that social justice is a key component in achieving economic development. Especially in areas where those involved are in the shadows of official employment, regulations need to be put into place.
- Domestic Workers’ Rights – It is important to protect the rights of domestic workers, who are often exploited, around the world. A huge initiative was adopted by the International Labour Organization which extends the protection of labor rights that often go ignored.
- The Palestinian Farmers Union works to gain rights to water usage. Currently, Palestine sees only eighteen percent of the total water storage available in the West Bank.
- SweatFree Communities assists sweatshop workers all over the world in their fight to improve working conditions and install independent labor unions. The organization has also worked with government agencies in order to achieve greater power, bringing unjust labor to an end.
- Justice for Colombia is a response to the human rights crisis in Colombia. Trade unionists and civil societies are consistently abused, and JFC fights to support the struggles of those targeted.
Additional Related Resources
Other information which serves to better clarify issues surrounding labor and international workers’ rights are provided in this section. Official reports and original research regarding labor rights and problems in labor are among the resources presented. Further, agencies or issues which are related to human rights in general are also given here.
- The Global Crisis: Causes, Responses and Challenges is a collection of essays which explains the symptoms of and challenges posed by the recent global economic crisis. This report is the product of collaboration between many those in different research disciplines.
- Short Term Indicators of the Labour Market – Information pertaining to the strength of the labor market is provided here in many different forms. View statistical summaries of recent reports, browse statistics by country or topic, or peruse the interactive map which allows users to compare labor statistics around the world.
- Human Rights Watch World Report 2011: China – This newest issue of the World Report explores challenges to human rights in very recent history. Labor unions are entirely prohibited in China, and any attempt to unionize is met with extreme reaction. International activities that display China’s increasingly indifferent actions on a global level are also considered.
- Human Rights Report: China – Documenting a number of human rights issues, this report explains significant issues the country faces regarding civil liberties. Unlawful deprivation of life, stifling of freedom of speech, and government corruption are a few concerns among the many listed.