Freedom to Form Unions: A Fundamental Human Right

“The rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association are … key to the realization of both democracy and dignity, since they enable people to voice and represent their interests, to hold governments accountable and to empower human agency.”—Rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association report to the United Nations General Assembly

The landmark Rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association report presented to the UN General Assembly October 20, 2016, forcefully conveys how the vast majority of the world’s workers are disenfranchised from their rights to assembly and association—rights that are fundamental to all other human rights—either by exclusion or outright oppression.

The report, issued by Maina Kiai, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of assembly and of association, finds that the impact of the lack of assembly and association rights is compounded for migrant workers, women workers and those in in the informal economy who often are excluded from labor law protections.

As Kiai said when presenting the report to the UN General Assembly, millions of workers in the global economy have been disenfranchised from their rights, either tacitly or deliberately by governments, exacerbating “global inequality, poverty, violence and child and forced labor.”

Among the findings:

  • Without assembly and association rights, workers have little leverage to change the conditions that entrench poverty, fuel inequality and limit democracy.
  • Millions of informal workers labor in global supply chains, where some of the worst abuses of freedoms of association and peaceful assembly are found—and where migrant workers are often concentrated.
  • Discrimination, abuse and relegation to jobs at the bottom of the global economy undermine women workers’ ability to join and form organizations that defend their interests.

The Special Rapporteur also launched the report on workplace rights at a side event at UN headquarters, where he warned of “an assault on labor” that has been going on for years. The side event was co-sponsored by the Solidarity Center, AFL-CIO, Ford Foundation, Human Rights Watch and the International Trade Union Confederation. Shawna Bader-Blau, executive director of the Solidarity Center, facilitated the discussion. Watch a video of the full event: