Capitalism’s triumph: Labor rights violated in every country on Earth

In what country are labor rights fully respected? The sad answer is: none.

Labor rights are routinely violated around the world, and the trend is only getting worse. The International Trade Union Confederation has again issued its annual Global Rights Index and the result is no better than in past years. It’s worse. For example, the number of countries that exclude workers from the right to establish or join a union increased from 92 in 2018 to 107 in 2019. Even in Europe, the region with the (relatively) best conditions for working people, half the countries exclude at least some groups of workers from freely associating by allowing “non-standard” forms of work such as zero-hour contracts, temp work or misclassifying people working through online platforms as “self-employed.”

Corporations ever on the lookout for ways to extract more from their workforce and, with government complicity, continue to press down. The Confederation, in its report, said:

Worldwide, new technology has allowed employers to use various mechanisms to avoid paying minimum entitlements and exclude workers from labour laws. Recent technological leaps in the ways that work can be allocated and accessed has resulted in increased incidences of workers being denied rights under the guise of flexibility and as platform workers. Decent work is being affected and rights are being denied by companies avoiding rules and regulations. … More and more governments are complicit in facilitating labour exploitation or allowing the rule of law to be avoided because workers are forced to work in the informal sector of the economy.”

Rapid advances in technology, because they are controlled by corporations and repressive governments, are enabling continuing deterioration in working conditions. Not only does technology enable production to be moved to locations with ever lower wages and regulations, but it enables the weakening labor protections in new “high tech” wrapping.

In its report, the International Trade Union Confederation ranks countries from one to five, with one the least repressive and five the most. Only 12 countries — Austria, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Slovakia, Sweden and Uruguay — are ranked as one. These are countries that are merely “sporadic” violators of rights. So there are no countries on Earth that do not violate labor rights. (There are several countries not given a rating, shown in gray in the map below.)

The International Trade Union Confederation labor rights rankings

Interestingly, the two countries most prone to wagging fingers at the rest of the world, Britain and the United States, once again fared poorly. Britain was ranked as a three, representing a country that has “regular violations of rights.” The U.S. was rated as a four, among countries determined to condone “systematic violations of rights.” There is nothing new here; the U.S. has consistently been scored as a four in these reports over the years. As recently as 2017, Britain was also ranked as a four.

In a country rated as a four, “The government and/or companies are engaged in serious efforts to crush the collective voice of workers putting fundamental rights under threat.”

So much for the so-called land of freedom.

The report’s rankings are as follows:

  • 1. Sporadic violations of rights: 12 countries as noted above (green on map above).
  • 2. Repeated violations of rights: 24 countries including France, Japan and New Zealand (yellow on map).
  • 3. Regular violations of rights: 26 countries including Australia, Canada and Spain (light orange on map).
  • 4. Systematic violations of rights: 39 countries including Argentina, Chile and Mexico (dark orange on map).
  • 5. No guarantee of rights: 34 countries including Brazil, China, Greece and India (red on map).
  • 5+ No guarantee of rights due to breakdown of the rule of law: 9 countries including Libya and Syria (dark red on map).

The Confederation, which describes itself as a coalition of “national trade union centres” encompassing 331 affiliated organizations in 163 countries and territories, determines its ratings by checking adherence to a list of 97 standards derived from International Labour Organization conventions. “The methodology is grounded in standards of fundamental rights at work, in particular the right to freedom of association, the right to collective bargaining and the right to strike,” the Confederation wrote in its report.

During the six years that the Confederation has issued its yearly reports, conditions have steadily deteriorated. Since the initial report in 2014, every region of the world has seen scores worsen. Summarizing this trend, the report says:

“In 2019, strikes have been severely restricted or banned in 123 out of 145 countries. In a significant number of these countries, industrial actions were brutally repressed by the authorities and workers exercising their right to strike often faced criminal prosecution and summary dismissals. Three regions — Africa, the Americas and [Middle East/North Africa] — all had an increase in the number of countries that violated the right to strike from last year.”

And thus it is no surprise that inequality is rising around the world, unemployment is endemic and far higher than official government statistics would have us believe and corporate tax dodging facilitated by government policies is widespread. The world’s working people continue to be on the losing side of one of the most one-sided wars in human history.

7 comments on “Capitalism’s triumph: Labor rights violated in every country on Earth

  1. Deborah Andrew says:

    With great respect for you many erudite observations, I am responding to the following:

    *”… when it becomes apparent there won’t be a climatic free lunch. There are two counters to these future costs — first, the benefits, including new jobs, from the industries that will grow dramatically from a real effort to switch to renewable energy as part of a comprehensive tackling of global warming *

    “Renewable energy” as we know it, sadly, is an illusion … and is not benign or sustainable.

    Please consider the attached.

    On Wed, Oct 2, 2019 at 9:03 AM Systemic Disorder wrote:

    > Systemic Disorder posted: “In what country are labor rights fully > respected? The sad answer is: none. Labor rights are routinely violated > around the world, and the trend is only getting worse. The International > Trade Union Confederation has again issued its annual Global Rights In” >

    • My apologies, Deborah, but did you intend to attach a link and inadvertently not do so?

      If your point is that renewable energy in itself is insufficient to save the world from global warming, then I am in agreement. The point of the passage that you quote above is an acknowledgment that there will be some benefits from a coordinated push toward renewable energy. Many well-meaning liberals tend to believe those benefits will solve a multitude of problems, but they won’t. As I have repeated written, we in the Global North will have to consume less if the planet is to be saved, and that certainly includes less consumption of energy.

      And, yes, it is true that expanding the renewable-energy infrastructure has its problems and issues, and some forms of alternative energy actually are no better than fossil fuels. I discuss some of this in this article: Renewable energy isn’t a shortcut to reversing global warming

  2. Curious if you have thoughts on The Freelancer’s Union? My research indicates that its supporters are the same folks pushing gig economy precarity and pay for success finance. Everyone an entrepreneur of themselves sort of thing. Seems to play into AI mediated work assignments for “Task Rabbits.” Not sure if you saw my post on telepresence commuting and haptic technology linked to 4th Industrial Revolution manufacturing. I sense that national ratings may make less and less sense as we are all reduced to free agents in the global marketplace of “just-in-time” labor. https://wrenchinthegears.com/2019/09/06/the-mixed-realty-commute-education-for-the-telepresence-gig-economy/

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