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ITUC: Cambodia, China Among World’s Worst Countries for Workers

With labor rights at the forefront of current compliance concerns, the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) has published a new Global Rights Index highlighting the world’s worst countries for workers. And Cambodia earned the index’s most dismal rating.

The ITUC released its Global Rights Index Monday, which ranks 139 countries against 97 internationally recognized indicators to determine where workers’ rights are best protected in law and practice. Those 97 rights indicators included the right to free association, the right to collective bargaining and the right to strike, among others.

The index covers violations between April 2013 and March 2014, and countries were rated from one to five according to 97 indicators. Ratings of 1 were issued for countries with only irregular violations of rights, 2 for repeated violation, 3 for regular violations, 4 for systematic and 5 for no guarantee of rights. Countries with a 5+ rating had no guarantee of rights due to the breakdown of the rule of law.

Sharan Burrow, ITUC general secretary, said, “Countries such as Denmark and Uruguay led the way through their strong labour laws, but perhaps surprisingly, the likes of Greece, the United States and Hong Kong, lagged behind.” She added, “A country’s level of development proved to be a poor indicator of whether it respected basic rights to bargain collectively, strike for decent conditions or simply join a union at all.”

Cambodia was rated a 5, or as having no guarantee of rights for workers, making it one of the world’s worst countries for workers. The report explains the rating like this: “While the legislation may spell out some rights, workers have effectively no rights and are therefore exposed to autocratic regimes and unfair and abusive practices.”

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According to the report, “Cambodia’s labour law fails to cover many civil servants, there are undue restrictions on the right to elect union representatives, and in 2013 the government responded with lethal force to demonstrators seeking a decent wage and working conditions. This resulted in Cambodia receiving a score of 5 in the Rights Index — the worst possible rating other than for those countries where the rule of law has completely broken down.”

Other countries with a 5 rating include: Bangladesh, China, Colombia, Egypt, India, Malaysia, Philippines and Turkey.

The report noted that abuse of rights is worsening and too many countries have not taken responsibility for protecting workers’ rights in a national context, or through corporate supply chains.

“The increase in precarious employment relationships has further deepened the vulnerability of workers to discrimination at the workplace. Governments in the vast majority of countries have been convinced to alter their labour legislation to encourage various forms of precarious work. In virtually all countries, temporary work, agency work, subcontracting and other types of informal work are expanding rapidly,” the report noted.

Subcontracting in Bangladesh has been a constant concern and its practice has separated retailers from proper transparency and knowledge of the goings on in their supply chains. Some have said as many as 20 percent of the country’s readymade garment factories are engaged in subcontracting with factories that are not recognized by local apparel trade bodies and therefore go unregulated.

Most of the 18 countries in the ITUC Index with a ranking of one, meaning they’ve only been cited for irregular violations were European nations but South Africa, Togo, Uruguay and Barbados also topped the list. The United States was rated 4 for systematic violations of rights.

Workers in at least 53 of the studied countries have been dismissed or suspended for trying to negotiate better working conditions, according to the report’s findings. In the past year, governments of at least 35 countries arrested or imprisoned workers as a way to resist demands for democratic rights, fair wages and safer workplaces. Laws and practices in at least 87 countries exclude certain types of workers from having the right to strike.

Burrow said, “The guarantee of the free exercise of workers’ rights is also a guarantee of a more equal and a more prosperous society. When workers enjoy the freedom of a collective voice, can bargain for safe workplaces and fair wages and conditions and are free from discrimination then productivity and economic growth can flourish.”

The full report can be found here.