The trend toward transparency or not—key sourcing countries are still counted among the worst places for workers’ rights.
In the International Trade Union Confederation’s (ITUC) recently released annual Global Rights Index, seven major sourcing countries made the top 10 list of world’s worst places for workers.
The biggest problem, according to ITUC, has been a general lack of democracy.
“Democracy is under attack in countries that fail to guarantee people’s right to organize, speak out and take action,” ITUC general secretary Sharan Burrow said in a statement. “Brazil passed laws that denied freedom of association, China restricted free speech and the military was useless to suppress labor disputes in Indonesia.”
What’s more, 65 percent of countries are excluding categories of workers from the labor law, 87 percent of countries have violated workers’ right to strike, and trade union members were killed in nine countries.
“Decent work and democratic rights grew weaker in almost all countries, while inequality continued to grow,” Burrow said, adding that multinational companies—Amazon included—exhibited unfavorable behavior. “The corporate power of Amazon continues to grow unchecked, from treating workers like robots to threatening to halt its expansion in Seattle over tax proposals to create affordable housing.” In the last year, Amazon workers at logistics centers in Italy, Germany and Spain went on strike for better pay and working conditions.
In its 2018 ranking of 142 countries for their workers’ rights, ITUC said these are the 10 worst offenders: Algeria, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Colombia, Egypt, Guatemala, Kazakhstan, the Philippines, Saudi Arabia and Turkey.
Further to that list, Haiti, Kenya and Spain were among the nations that have seen their rankings worsen this year over last, with a rise in attacks on workers’ rights in both law and practice, according to ITUC.
Countries are ranked on a 1-5 scale, with 5 indicating they offer no guarantee of workers’ rights. All 10 of the worst offenders naturally ranked 5, but other top sourcing countries—like China, Honduras, India, Mexico, Indonesia and Pakistan—also joined them in the ‘no guarantee of rights’ ranking.
In Bangladesh, where efforts have been wide-reaching to improve working conditions, particularly in the apparel and textiles industry, ITUC said workers at Orchid Sweater factory were physically attacked and their families threatened when seeking to register for a newly formed union. In August, more than 50 workers at Haesong Corporation were reportedly attacked during a peaceful protest over 218 workers who had been wrongfully suspended in April after demanding pay for their unused leave.
In Cambodia, the main cause of the ITUC’s ire is the currently under consideration draft Wage Law, which it says “would undermine and potentially criminalize the work of unions, labor rights activists and civil society groups by barring peaceful demonstrations and sidelining independent unions.”
Striking has not gone over well in Cambodia. Last June, ITUC said Southland garment factory suspended 10 union leaders for seven months after 1,500 workers went on strike over their working hours. At Gawon Apparel factory, 588 workers were fired after a strike, and in May, Phnom Penh authorities banned a group of independent trade unions that represent the bulk of the garment sector’s 700,000 workers from holding a march.
Though not among the top 10, and ranked 4 for “systematic violations of rights,” Brazil’s parliament took a step forward in adjusting its labor laws, adding a provision that would deny a category of workers’ rights to freely associate because they’d be classified under a different status of worker.
In a similar vein, China in December issued implementation rules for a law on counter-espionage that’s so broad, it allows the country to investigate any “acts of subversion,” including publishing or sharing any text or information it considers to be a threat to national security, effectively enforcing a threat to freedom of speech.
Generally, according to ITUC, the worst offending nations are in the Middle East and North Africa, where modern slavery remains a rampant problem. And in Asia-Pacific, workers have nearly no room to defend their rights—every one of the 22 countries in the region violated workers’ rights to strike and collectively bargain.
“From attacks on civil liberties, the arbitrary arrest, detention and imprisonment of workers, the erosion of collective bargaining and the increasing criminalization of the right to strike to the exclusion of workers from labor protection, violations of workers’ rights are on the rise,” Burrow said. “This is a global threat to democracy and security. Governments must act in the interest of the working people.”