Because law underpins economic, political and social worlds, the empowerment of workers involves direct engagement with law and legal rules. Worker rights are framed by constitutional rights, such as freedom of association and expression; labor legislation and regulation; and private law rules of contract.
Yet in a globalized economy, workers also operate within the wider space of international human rights and international trade regimes. Transformation of worker rights involves engagement with these formal legal systems through advocacy and enforcement of existing rights, law reform efforts and impact litigation to challenge or give definition to laws.
The Solidarity Center rule of law program operates at two distinct but related levels.
National Program: The aim of our national program is increase the professional quality and scope of Solidarity Center country offices’ legal aid programs by emphasizing the importance of providing access to rule of law institutions, including courts, for vulnerable workers. In this capacity, our rule of law work has focused on:
- National labor and related law reform.
- The development of test cases litigation.
- Innovative alternative dispute resolution programs.
For example, in Bangladesh we have partnered with local public interest lawyers to institute test case litigation on behalf of the families of the victims of the Rana Plaza building collapse.
Global Program: Rule of Law identifies global themes, based upon emerging international legal developments, or pressing global needs. For example, in 2014, we embarked on a series of fact-finding missions regarding questions of maternity protection and gender equality, using international human rights frameworks. Similarly, in response to international legal developments, such as the adoption of the Optional Protocol on the Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Solidarity Center rule of law program has begun implementing programs introducing key human rights concepts and tools to the labor context.
In December 2018, the Solidarity Center launched a new global network of union and worker rights lawyers and advocates, the International Lawyers Assisting Workers (ILAW) network. Given the increasingly international nature of labor and employment law, and the common obstacles that workers face wherever they may be, we believe it is critical to the effective representation of unions and workers that there is a means to unite legal practitioners and scholars to exchange information and ideas. We believe that the ILAW Network will become vital to the promotion of the rights of workers worldwide.