MAP: The worst places in the world to be a worker


The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), an alliance of regional trade confederations that advocates for labor rights around the world, debuted its Global Rights Index this week, ranking countries on a 1 (best) through 5 (worst) scale on the basis of how well workers' rights are protected.

The organization used 97 different indicators to compile its index, centered around the ability of workers to join unions, win collective bargaining rights and have access to due process and legal protections. The report evaluates labor rights in 139 countries — hence the reason for some gray areas on the map. (You can read more about the methodology here.)

The countries in darker shades of red are where these international norms are least respected or protected — vast nations like India and China with uneven, poor labor standards, for example, are ranked 5. In cases where conflict has gripped a nation and shattered what semblance of rule of law was there in the first place — say in Central African Republic, Libya or Syria — the ITUC scored them even worse at 5+.

In the report's overall survey of the state of labor in the world, the ITUC found the following:

In the past 12 months alone, governments of at least 35 countries have arrested or imprisoned workers as a tactic to resist demands for democratic rights, decent wages, safer working conditions and secure jobs. In at least 9 countries murder and disappearance of workers were used as a common practice in order to intimidate workers.

Moreover, it pointed the finger at petro-rich Persian Gulf states where a vast proportion of the labor work force are migrants, sometimes kept in a state of feudal thralldom by employers and recruitment companies that block their ability to even move elsewhere. "In countries such as Qatar or Saudi Arabia," the report reads, "the exclusion of migrant workers from collective labour rights means that effectively more than 90% of the workforce are unable to have access to their rights leading to forced labour practices in both countries supported by archaic sponsorship laws."

The report also ranks the U.S. a dismal 4, a sign of "systematic violations" — collective bargaining rights are uneven across the U.S.'s states and unions are far weaker than some of their counterparts in northern Europe. “Countries such as Denmark and Uruguay led the way through their strong labour laws, but perhaps surprisingly, the likes of Greece, the United States and Hong Kong, lagged behind,” said ITUC General Secretary Sharan Burrow in a news release. “A country’s level of development proved to be a poor indicator of whether it respected basic rights to bargain collectively, strike for decent conditions, or simply join a union at all.”

Ishaan Tharoor writes about foreign affairs for The Washington Post. He previously was a senior editor at TIME, based first in Hong Kong and later in New York.



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