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Corporate power undermine workers’ assembly

Pursuit of profit and corporate power undermine workers’ assembly and association rights, warns UN expert

NEW YORK (21 October 2016) – People’s ability to exercise their assembly and association rights in the workplace is deteriorating drastically worldwide, leading to worsened labour conditions, weaker social protections and increased inequalities, United Nation expert Maina Kiai told the UN General Assembly.

Speaking during the presentation of his final report* to the main UN body, the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association highlighted unyielding pursuit of profits, increasing corporate power and the changing nature of employment relationships as leading causes of this decline.

“Assembly and association rights in the workplace continue to be undermined for a large proportion of workers, mainly because of an economic world order that relentlessly pursues ever-increasing growth and profit at all costs,” Mr. Kiai stated.

“Meanwhile,” he added, “the growing power and geographic reach of large corporations has meant that States are increasingly unwilling or unable to regulate these business entities and their attempts to place profits ahead of the rights and dignity of workers.”

The independent expert warned that, without the checks and balances provided by robust protection for workers’ rights, workers are inevitably seeing a decline in working conditions, social protections, and labour relations. He underscored that assembly and association rights form the foundation for labour’s traditional tools for asserting rights, including unions, strikes and collective bargaining.

The report paints a grim picture and cites dozens of examples of violations of worker’s assembly and association rights in more than 50 countries, ranging from union busting to legislative gaps to assassinations of union leaders.

The UN expert highlighted as an example the situation of migrant workers in the Middle East kafala system and the United States H2 visa program. Employers in both systems have near total control over guest workers, which is “a significant deterrent to their free exercise of assembly and association rights,” Mr. Kiai said.

The expert also referred to the situation of women, supply chain workers, migrants, informal workers and domestic workers, whom he said have been hit particularly hard by the deterioration of assembly and association rights.

The Special Rapporteur emphasised that the primary burden for protecting and promoting assembly and association rights falls upon States, who must take positive measures to do this.

“I have heard too often of States working to undermine these rights, or purporting to remain ‘neutral’ or ‘hands-off’ in the struggle by workers to claim their rights,” Mr. Kiai said. “Let me be clear: Under international human rights law, States have a positive obligation to facilitate the enjoyment of all rights, including the right of association for the purposes of joining trades unions. There can be no neutral position in this regard.”

The Special Rapporteur said that fresh approaches were needed in order to enable all workers to fully enjoy their rights.

“The old ways of defending workers’ rights are no longer working,” he said. “Our world and its globalized economy are changing at a lightning pace, and it is critical that the tools we use to protect to labour rights adapt just as quickly.”

“Labour rights are human rights. It is time for states and the human rights community to place labour rights at the core of their work,” he concluded.

(*) Check the Special Rapporteur’s report to the General Assembly:


Mr. Maina Kiai (Kenya) took up his functions as the first Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association in May 2011. He is appointed in his personal capacity as an independent expert by the UN Human Rights Council. As a Special Rapporteur, Mr. Kiai is part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity. Learn more, log on to:

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