Labor rights deteriorate, democracy diminished


Darker colors indicate countries that honour fewer employment rights

Democratic institutions deteriorate when labor rights diminish, research suggests. Similarly, unions serve as what Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam calls “schools for democracy” and also tend to enhance democratization. In which case, democracy is likely to face further challenges…..

Workers around the world experienced rising physical violence and threats over the last year—and in more countries–according to this year’s ITUC Global Rights Index. The report documents attacks on union members in 59 countries and shows that 60 percent of countries are now excluding entire groups of workers from labor law, The Solidarity Center’s Carolyn Butler writes.

The report’s key findings include:

  • Millions of people are still enslaved under the kefala system in the Gulf, making the Middle East and North Africa once again the worst region for treatment of workers
  • Unionists were murdered in 11 countries: Bangladesh, Brazil, Colombia, Guatemala, Honduras, Italy, Mauritania, Mexico, Peru, the Philippines and Venezuela
  • The number of countries in which workers are exposed to physical violence and threats increased from 52 to 59 countries, including Colombia, Egypt, Guatemala, Indonesia and Ukraine
  • Eighty-four countries exclude entire categories of workers from labor law
  • More than three-quarters of countries deny some or all workers their right to strike
  • More than three-quarters of countries deny some or all workers collective bargaining
  • Out of 139 countries surveyed, 50 deny or restrict free speech and freedom of assembly.

The report ranks the 10 worst countries for worker rights in 2017 as Bangladesh, Colombia, Egypt, Guatemala, Kazakhstan, the Philippines, Qatar, South Korea, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates.

The index has the potential to become an extremely useful tool, notes one observer:

Employment rights are fundamental to people’s ability to secure a better deal for themselves within the capitalist system, or at least to protect themselves from the most egregious forms of exploitation. The ITUC’s index will help to spotlight and apply pressure on governments that fail to guarantee these basic human rights.


The Solidarity Center is a core institute of the National Endowment for Democracy.

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