Whether it’s wages, workload or working hours, some countries are worse than others when it comes to workers’ rights.
And according to the 2017 International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC)) Global Rights Index, quite a few of those countries are key to sourcing.
In assessing workers’ rights violations around the world, like trade union rights in particular, the index found the 10 worst countries in the world for workers are: Qatar, the UAE, Egypt, the Philippines, Colombia, Kazakhstan, Korea, Guatemala, Turkey and Bangladesh. And while Myanmar didn’t make the top 10 on the naughty list, its ranking went from bad to worst.
That’s at least five countries that are vital to sourcing and manufacturing apparel.
Throughout 2016 and so far this year, workers were killed for their trade union activity in Bangladesh, Brazil, Colombia, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Peru and Italy, among others.
(Read more about working to improve labor conditions: G20 Recognized Wage Initiative Could Lead to More Standardized Labor Practices)
Countries in the index are ranked on a scale of 1-5 (5 being the worst) based on how much respect they have for workers rights. Criteria assessed include civil rights, the right to bargain collectively, the right to strike, the right to freely associate and access to due process rights.
All of those in the 10 worst ranked 5, indicating no guarantee of workers’ rights, but other sourcing countries like Cambodia, China, Honduras, India, Mexico, Pakistan and Vietnam also ranked an unfavorable 5. As a point of comparison, just 12 countries earned a 1, meaning rights are not regularly violated, and 11 of 12 are in Europe, with Uruguay as the only South American outlier. The United States fell far behind that, with a dismal 4 ranking, indicating systematic violation of rights.
“Rights to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly were violated in 50 countries in 2017. This is concerning as they are important enabling rights for workers,” according to the ITUC report. “The ability of workers to organize allows them to use their collective power to achieve improved labor rights, health and safety at the workplace, the right not to be discriminated against and freedom from forced labor and child labor.”
The biggest problems, by country
In Egypt, workers participating in trade unions are still suffering “severe” discrimination and repression. Workers striking over cuts to bonuses were attacked and arrested, and others at a shipping company who had been refusing to work and peacefully protesting seeking a salary increase, were detained and some sentenced to two years in prison.
Bangladesh is no stranger to labor rights violations and its problems with trade union rights persist. The Ashulia strike among garment workers in December led to more than 1,600 workers being suspended or dismissed for refusing to work in seeking a wage increase. The level of discrimination against trade unions appears to be so far reaching that just 10 percent of Bangladesh’s more than 4,500 factories have registered trade unions—which may be because 30 percent of workers at a factory must agree to form a union in order to be registered.
Colombia has made progress in some regards, but according to the ITUC, there’s a ways to go.
“It should not be forgotten that Colombia remains one of the worst violators of trade union rights with a horrendous record for impunity regarding the murders of trade unionists,” the report noted.
An organization called Postobon is also running an “aggressive” anti-union policy in the country, and as of August 2016, had dismissed more than 3,000 unionized workers from their posts.
Trade unions are targeted in Guatemala too. In June last year, a union leader was murdered, and the repression has continued since—without repercussion.
“Not only has the government failed to provide prompt and adequate protection to trade unionists who have received death threats but the public prosecutor has failed to effectively pursue the many historic cases of murders of trade unionists,” the ITUC noted.
Since the attempted coup in Turkey last July, ITUC said trade unions and their members have become public enemies.
“Over 100,000 public sector workers have lost their jobs in systematic purges by the Erdogan government, whilst others have been transferred or suspended,” the report noted. Trade union leaders have also been attacked, arrested and jailed and protests have been repressed by police or altogether banned.
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