UN Consultation on Worker Rights Gathers Global Experts

More than two dozen worker, union and human rights experts from around the world gathered last week in Kenya to discuss some of the most intractable global labor issues: informalization of work, gender inequality, migrant worker rights and the erosion of workers’ freedoms of peaceful assembly and of association.

The two-day “Expert Consultation on Freedom of Association and Assembly for Workers” was convened by Maina Kiai, UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association (FOAA), in collaboration with the Solidarity Center. Shawna Bader-Blau, Solidarity Center executive director, co-facilitated the meeting.

Maina Kiai, UN, Solidarity Center, freedom of association

Maina Kiai (left) opens the discussion, with Wisborn Malaya (center) representing informal workers in Zimbabwe and Phil Robertson from Human Rights Watch. Credit: UN

High-level representatives from key organizations—Asia Monitor Resource Center; Asia Network for Rights of Occupational & Environmental Victims; Escuela Nacional Sindical (ENS, National Union School, Colombia); Human Rights House Foundation; Human Rights Watch; International Center for Not-for-Profit Law; International Corporate Accountability Roundtable; International Domestic Workers Federation; International Labor Organization; International Trade Union Confederation; Kenya National Union of Teachers; Kenya Union of Domestic, Hotels, Educational Institutions, Hospitals and Allied Workers (KUDHEIHA); Labor Research Service; National Guestworkers Alliance; Proyecto de Derechos Económicos, Sociales y Culturales (ProDESC, the Economic, Social and Cultural Rights Project, Mexico); Social and Economic Rights Institute of South Africa; UNITE-HERE; World Movement for Democracy; and Zimbabwe Chamber of Informal Employment Organizations—discussed the status of vulnerable workers and their rights, gender-based violence and discrimination, the ability of workers to exercise their rights to freedom of association and assembly, particularly in global supply chains.

The experts closed the meeting by looking at ways to bolster FOAA for vulnerable workers, including strengthening legal frameworks at the national level, monitoring and improving the practices of non-state actors, and establishing global governance mechanisms.

Discussions and conclusions from this consultation will feed into the Special Rapporteur’s next thematic report on the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, which he will present to the UN General Assembly in October 2016.

“The Special Rapporteur’s focus on these very serious labor issues can have a real impact, and the organizations consulted during this kick-off meeting were excited to support the effort,” said Bader-Blau. “This is a critical moment for working people around the world, so many of whom are seeing their rights as workers deteriorate because the freedoms of association and assembly are under assault.”