Labour - an introduction

Below are select introductory materials on business and labour rights.  Further reports from a wide range of sources are in the "Labour: General" section of our site. (This page and our "Labour: General" section do not cover child labour, forced labour or certain other labour issues that we cover here; the various forms of discrimination that we cover here; nor workplace health & safety, which is included in the "Health: General" section of our site.) 

Key international standards

Universal Declaration of Human Rights: articles 23 and 24

International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights: article 22

International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights: articles 6, 7 and 8

International Labour Organization (ILO) Tripartite declaration of principles concerning multinational enterprises and social policy (4th ed.)

ILO Convention No. 87: Convention concerning Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise

ILO Convention No. 98: Convention concerning the Application of the Principles of the Right to Organise and to Bargain Collectively

ILO Convention No. 95: Convention concerning the Protection of Wages

International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families: articles 25 and 26

Key reports & guidance

Labour - Guidance Material, UN Global Compact

Towards a new worker-based CSR model: A pilot labor rights training program in China, SACOM (Students & Scholars Against Corporate Misbehavior - Hong Kong) & Bread for All, 23 Sep 2009

Clearing the Hurdles: Steps to Improving Working Conditions in the Global Sportswear Industry [PDF], Clean Clothes Campaign, Apr 2008

A guide to codes of international labour practice (4th ed.), Friedrich Ebert Stiftung & SÜDWIND Institut für Ökonomie und Ökumene, Nov 2005 /

A Trade Union Guide to Globalisation (2nd ed.) [PDF], Intl. Confederation of Free Trade Unions, Nov 2004

Concerns, company responses & non-responses


The Resource Centre invites companies to respond to allegations of misconduct.  Below are examples of allegations and company responses regarding labour rights.  We also indicate when a company has not responded.

Global: Report by Dutch unions alleges labour abuses, including anti-union practices, Jun- Aug 2009. Response from Unilever.

Global: SOMO "Overviews of controversial business practices in 2008", Jul 2009. Response from Aegon, Ahold, AkzoNobel, Philips, TNT. No response from Heineken, SBM Offshore.

Asia: Clean Clothes Campaign report "Cashing in" says discount model leads to labour abuses at factories in Asia supplying Aldi, Carrefour, Lidl, Tesco, Wal-Mart, Mar 2009.  Responses from Aldi, Carrefour, Lidl, Tesco, Wal-Mart.

Latin America: Labour coalition says abuses of workers' rights persist on Dole's plantations & those of its suppliers, Nov 2009. Response from Dole.

Argentina: FOCO (Argentinean NGO) alleges labour & human rights abuses & environmental contamination by Minera Alumbrera, Mar 2007.  No response received from Minera Alumbrera.

Armenia: Report says workers at Sotq gold (GeoProMining) deposit afraid to complain about unsafe working conditions, Oct 2009. No response from GeoProMining.

Bangladesh: SweatFree Communities alleges labour abuses by Wal-Mart supplier JMS Garments, Nov 2008.  Responses from JMS Garments, Wal-Mart.

Bangladesh: National Labor Committee appeals to Metro Group not to "cut and run" from supplier RL Denim following allegations of labor abuses, May, Jun 2009  Response from Metro Group.

Bangladesh, Costa Rica, India: ActionAid says women working for suppliers to UK supermarkets, including Sainsbury’s, locked into dangerous conditions, "appallingly" low pay, Apr 2007. Response from Sainsbury’s. No response from ASDA (part of Wal-Mart).

Cambodia: Australian Council of Trade Unions campaign raises concerns about health & working conditions of "beer promotion women", Jun 2006.  Response from Anchor, Carlsberg, Heineken, InBev. No response received from Anheuser-Busch.

Canada: Wal-Mart’s labour policies & practices violate international law, according to article by business school professor Roy Adams, Mar 2006.  Response from Wal-Mart.

Chile:Conflict between Aguas Claras and its workers over labour conditions, Feb 2008 [Spanish only]. Response from Aguas Claras.  

Chile: Serious concerns about working conditions in salmon industry, including workplace deaths, Jul 2006. Response from AguaChile, Cermaq, Friosur, SalmonChile.

China: Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehavior demands improved conditions for contract workers at Coca-Cola bottlers Swire Beverages, Sep 2009. Response from Coca Cola and Swire Beverages.

China: NGOs say Excelsior Electronics and buyer Fujitsu Siemens provided weak responses to report of factory labour abuses, Apr 2009. Response from Excelsior Electronics, Fujitsu Siemens.

China: "High Tech Misery in China": Natl. Labor Committee (US) alleges labour abuses at Mae Tay keyboard factory supplying Dell, HP, IBM, Lenovo, Microsoft, Feb 2009. Responses from Dell, HP, IBM, Lenovo, Mae Tay, Microsoft.

China: Investigative report into working conditions in factories manufacturing products for Disney reveals numerous abuses, Oct 2008 [French only]. Response from Disney.

China: Local union & blogging workers allege Ole Wolff Electronics factory dismissed workers for forming a union, Sep 2008. Response from Ole Wolff Electronics.

China: China Labor Watch report alleges serious labour rights abuses at Puma's supplier Surpassing Shoe Co, Jul 2008. Response from Puma. No response received from Surpassing Shoe Co.

China: China Labor Watch report alleges abuses at Hantai Shoe, supplier to Wal-Mart, Jul 2008. Response from Wal-Mart. No response received from Hantai Shoe.

China: Allegations of rigged union election at Shunda factory, decline in working conditions since adidas acquired Reebok, Apr 2008. Response from adidas.

China: Report by Sunday Times (UK) alleges labour abuses at adidas suppliers in Fuzhou, including Shunda factory, Apr 2008.  Response from adidas.

China: Workers in Junxingye factory (owned by Full Start) making crucifixes for religious gift shops in US work 15-hour days in poor conditions, says Natl. Labor Committee (USA), Dec 2007-Jan 2008. Response from Full Start.

China: Students and Scholars against Corporate Misbehaviour (SACOM) report alleges widespread labour abuses among suppliers of major technology & electronics brands, Mar 2007. Responses from Bestec, Dell, Delta Electronics, Fittec, HP (Hewlett-Packard) Motorola, NEC, Samsung. No response received from Lenovo, TCL, Xinhao, Yonghong Factory/ FSP Group.

China: 800 lose jobs after Disneylicensee ends contract with factory, following allegations of labour abuses, Feb 2007. Response from Disney.

China: Labour groups raise concerns about positions of multinational & their business organizations regarding China’s proposed labour law reform, Jan 2007. Responses from Ericsson, General Electric, Google, Intel, Maersk, Nike, Nokia, Procter & Gamble, PSA Peugeot Citroën, Sara Lee, Shell, Tesco, Walt Disney.  No response received from ABB, AT&T, Carrefour, DuPont, Microsoft, Total, UPS, Wal-Mart.

China: Labour abuses at 3 factories producing Disney merchandise alleged in report by SACOM (Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehavior), Sep 2006. No response received from Walt Disney.

China: China Labor Watch says employees at Kohler factory work in dangerous conditions, Jun 2006. No response received from Kohler.

China: Global textiles union (ITGLWF) accuses Kingmaker Footwear of labour abuses & cover-up to mislead workplace monitors - suppliesClarks & Skechers, Aug 2005. Response from Clarks, Kingmaker Footwear, Skechers.

China: National Labor Committee (USA) alleges factories making books for Disney operate under unsafe conditions, Aug 2005. Response from Walt Disney.

China: Swedwatch/Fair Trade Center report alleges poor working conditions at toy factories, Jun 2005. Response from Brio, Coop, Top-Toy.

China: China Labor Watch alleges labour rights abuses at Timberland supplier Kingmaker Footwear in China, Mar 2005. Response from Timberland.

Colombia:Allegations of anti-union activities by Glencore, Unión Fenosa in Colombia, Aug 2007. Response received from Glencore, Unión Fenosa [Unión Fenosa response only in Spanish]

Colombia: NGOs & unions allege widespread labour rights abuses at Doleflower plantations, including compulsory pregnancy tests, exposure to pesticides, excessive hours, Mar 2007. Response from Dole.

Ecuador: Report denounces anti-union practices of Grupo Flores de Montaña, Mar 2007. Response from Grupo Flores de Montaña.

Guatemala: Natl. Labor Committee (US) alleges women workers' rights abused Nicotex factory, supplying Lane Bryant (part of Charming Shoppes), Briggs New York (part of Kellwood), Mar 2009. Response by Charming Shoppers, Kellwood, Nicotex.

Guyana: Allegations of safety & labour abuses at wood processing factory owned by Baishanlin, BUCC, Sep 2007. Response from Baishanlin, BUCC.

Indonesia: Alleged labour abuses at factory supplying Pierre Cardin underwear, Feb 2009. Response from Pierre Cardin.

Israel/Occupied territories: Cases of employers' non-compliance with High Court ruling on Palestinian workers' rights, including withholding pay, using work permits to "intimidate" workers, Sep 2008. Response from Royalife. No response received from Yad Lechayey Adam Carpenters, Avgi Morris Carpenter.

Jordan: Report by National Labor Committee (a U.S. NGO) alleges poor working conditions in garment factories producing for US brands & retailers. Response from Responses from Atatek, Horizon Clothing Manufacturing, JC Penney, Nautica/VF Corporation, Target, Wal-Mart. No response received from Group Talent, Russell, Silver Planet.

Liberia: "The Heavy Load" report alleges continuing abuses on Firestone rubber plantation. Includes rejoinder by Save my Future Foundation & further response by Firestone, Jul-Aug 2008. Response from Firestone Natural Rubber  

Mexico: Rubie's Costume Co. facility accused of child labour, safety infringements & other labour abuses, Nov 2005. Response from Rubie’s Costume, Warner Brothers (part of Time Warner).

Mexico: Workers at Monclova factory raise concerns about workplace safety & wages, Aug 2006. Response Sara Lee/Hanes.

Mexico: Concerns raised about mine safety, violations of unionisation rights, Nov 2006. Response from Grupo México/Industrial Minera México.

Nigeria: Workers allege "inhuman treatment", use of child labour and ban on unionization at Lee Group factory, Jun 2008. Response from Lee Group  

Philippines: Behind the Label (USA) alleges poor working conditions at Wal-Mart, Kmart, Fred Meyer supplier Gelmart Industries, Apr 2006. Response from Fred Meyer, Kmart, Gelmart. No response received from Wal-Mart.

Philippines/ Thailand: Clean Clothes Campaign says Triumph factory closings are "attempt to get rid of unions", Aug 2009. Response from Triumph.

Poland: Labour groups protest allege anti-union activities & sexual harassment at Frito-Lay food plant (part of PepsiCo), Apr 2006. Response from PepsiCo.

Rep. of Congo: Congolese workers at Chinese cement factory allege labour abuses including nationality discrimination, denial of freedom of association, May 2007. Response from China Road & Bridge (CRBC).

Sri Lanka: Global textiles union (ITGLWF) raises concerns over labour rights issues at GP Garments factory in export processing zone, May 2005. Response from GP Garments.

So. Africa: Union says members shot while protesting lock-out by Ali Baba Foods, Oct 2008. Response from Ali Baba Foods.

So. Africa: Women working on fruit farms supplying Tesco work in “appalling” conditions – receiving “poverty wages”, exposed to pesticides, living in “dismal housing” and losing out on benefits, says ActionAid report, Apr 2005. Response from Tesco.

Thailand: Thai Labour Campaign study says women making footballs earn “poverty wages”, July 2006. Response from adidas. 

Thailand: Hoya Glass Disk Company allegedly clamps down on unions; workers claim to have been arbitrarily dismissed, Oct 2008. Response from Hoya Corporation.

Turkey:Menderes Textil factory, Turkey- Clean Clothes Campaign raises concerns of anti-union activity, other labour abuses, Jun 2009. Response from Carrefour, Iberia, Ikea, Mothercare, Otto, Target, No Response from Horizonte, Kohl’s,

USA: Union report accuses Cummins of violating workers' basic labour rights, Aug 2007. Response from Cummins.

USA/UK:  Submission by Drive Up Standards to UK Parliament Joint Committee inquiry on business & human rights alleges labour & human rights abuses by National Express. No response from National Express.  

Positive steps by companies

Global: Project Kaleidoscope by McDonald's, Disney, Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility & others, on improving supply chain working conditions - final report.

Global: Ethical Consumer says prices of cheap toys does not reflect their full environmental & social costs - highlights ethical toy firm Holz Toys.

Cambodia: Companies including Eddie Bauer, Gap, H&M, Liz Claiborne, Phillips-Van Heusen call on govt. to investigate murder of union leader - Say swift justice key to their continued sourcing from Cambodia.

China: Mattel helps ensure decent working conditions & product safety by owning toy factories in China, says NY Times article.

China: Unions, NGOs & companies including adidas, New Balance, Nike, Speedo, Umbro form group to improve respect for labour rights.

Dominican Republic, Honduras, Nicaragua: Project supported by US Govt., NGOs & companies including Chiquita, Del Monte, Dole, Tesco, Wal-Mart aims to improve workplace conditions & standards at fruit farms.

USA: Florida farmworkers: Bon Appétit & Coalition of Immokalee Workers form agreement on working conditions - company plans to boycott growers that do not participate.

Uzbekistan:  Uzbek Govt. signs ILO conventions after retailers including Tesco, Asda/Wal-Mart, Marks & Spencer, Gap pull out over forced child labour in cotton industry.

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Related stories and components

28 October 2009

The true cost of cheap Christmas presents [UK]

Author: Tim Hunt, writer at Ethical Consumer magazine, in Guardian [UK]

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1 October 2009

[PDF] Dole… Behind the Smoke-screen… What is new since our report on the company’s plantations in Latin America in 2006 ?

Author: Jean-Paul Arpi & Maude Feral - Peuples Solidaires / Action Aid; Helge Fischer - Banafair

In 2006, a group of civil society organisations published a report about Dole and their suppliers in Latin America...[which] uncovered violations of trade union freedom and workers’ rights in the plantations that produce Dole bananas... Three years on,...

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30 September 2009

Employees at Sotq deposit not talk about their problems: fear of redundancy [Armenia]

Author: EcoLur Network

In February of 2009 the employees at Sotq deposit went on strike demanding better working conditions and increase in wages. The administration of GPM GOLD Company [part of GeoProMining], the deposit’s owner, promised to settle all the issues…Working...

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27 July 2009

'Triumph' dismissals in Asia attempt to get rid of unions [Philippines, Thailand]

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19 June 2009

[PDF] Metro Group statement re: investigation of abuses at RL Denim factory in Bangladesh

Author: METRO Group

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24 May 2009

Uzbekistan forced to stop child labour

Author: Nick Mathiason, Observer [UK]

In Uzbekistan, gangs forcibly remove hundreds of thousands of children from schools, order them to pick cotton in the searing heat and live in squalid conditions on pitiful wages…Uzbeki state-controlled cotton is sold to the world's biggest retailers,...

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29 April 2009

A Squeeze for Tomato Growers [USA]

Author: Jane Black, Washington Post

Appalled by instances of what federal prosecutors have described as slavery, executives of one of the nation's largest food service companies promise to boycott Florida tomatoes if growers [through the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange] do not agree to...

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1 April 2009

Fujitsu Siemens Computers does not take responsibility for labor rights violations in their supply chain in China

Author: SACOM (Hong Kong) and WEED (Germany)

... following the release of "The Dark Side of Cyberspace Report" in December 2008…On March 24, 2009, top-level management from Compeq, Compal Electronics, Dell and SACOM met…SACOM was impressed by these stakeholders’ strong commitment to continuously...

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25 February 2009

Women Exploiting Women [Guatemala]

Author: National Labor Committee & Center for Studies and Support for Local Development (CEADEL)

Women in the U.S. are purchasing clothing sewn by women who are exploited in Guatemala. The Nicotex sweatshop produces clothing for Briggs New York [part of Kellwood] and Lane Bryant [part of Charming Shoppes]...overtime work is common, obligatory and...

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1 February 2009

Indonesia - Pierre Cardin: Not so chic underneath

Author: Peuples Solidaires

In August 2008, workers at a small Indonesian factory that has been producing underwear for [Pierre] Cardin for over ten years, informed us of serious violations of their rights by the factory management. When they protested against the unfair...

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