Worker’s Rights Activists and Union Leaders

Worker’s rights activists and union leaders working to expose corrupt business practices or ensure protections for workers face different forms of retaliation, including violent threats, restrictions on their ability to form associations, and frivolous criminal charges. The Justice Defenders Program works with local partners facing such threats to develop innovative strategies to document abuses, form cross-sectoral coalitions, build public support, and engage key stakeholders to increase respect for human rights in business operations. We have also provided training on the documentation of labor violations, investigated violations of the U.S. Tariff Act, and engaged buyers about violations by their suppliers. Additionally, the Program helps activists secure protection from violent threats.

Please see below for examples our public work involving worker's rights activists and union leaders.


Communities Under Pressure: Findings from Valbonia, Albania

In January 2019, the Justice Defenders Program investigated reports that activists and community members who objected to the proliferation of hydropower plants (HPPs) in Valbona, Albania were facing consistent harassment from local state and company actors. Its report, “Communities under Pressure – Findings from Valbona, Albania,” describes instances of alleged harassment as reported by those who were interviewed by its investigator. As in the rest of the world, the forms of harassment reported included arrests or threats of arrests, apparently selective prosecutions of activists, threats to job security for activists or their family members, judicial harassment, anonymous threats, and smear campaigns that undermined familial and communal relationships.  


Trial Observation Report: The Case of Rafael Marques de Morais

The Justice Defenders Program observed the trial of Angolan journalist Rafael Marques de Morais was charged with defamation in relation to his book Blood Diamonds : Corruption and Torture in Angola. The book implicated high ranking Angolan military officials for human rights violations committed in one of Angola's diamond mining areas. After proceedings that denied Marques de Morais the right to present a defense, induced him into making a statement on the basis of false pretenses, and compelled him to bear the burden of proving his innocence, all in violation of international fair trial standards, Marques de Morais was found guilty. 


The 2016–2020 Ashulia Strike Cases: Garment Worker Union Leaders in the Bangladeshi Criminal Justice System

The Justice Defenders Program analyzed the cases of seven full-time union or federation organizers and one garment factory worker who were allegedly involved in the 2016 Ashulia protests and found that the cases exemplify the ongoing anti-union discrimination against union leaders in Bangladesh.


Cambodia: Report on Prosecution of Six Independent Trade Union Leaders

The treatment of labor union leaders by governmental authorities in Cambodia has a volatile history and has been the subject of concern by various international and regional authorities, including the International Labor Organization, the European Commission, and certain United Nations Special Rapporteurs. This report focuses on the prosecution of six labor union leaders who faced criminal charges in the aftermath of protests surrounding the 2013 National Assembly election results, which continued the 28-year reign of Prime Minister Hun Sen and his Cambodian People’s Party.


Ecuador: Preliminary Report on Criminal Charges Filed Against Labor Organizer Jorge Acosta

After observing several of the hearings in the cases against Jorge Acosta, an Ecuadorian workers’ rights advocate and coordinator of the banana workers’ union ASTAC, Center staff attorneys concluded that the criminal proceedings against him have been characterized by several serious irregularities. The Center staff further concluded that there are grounds for concern that officials may be using criminal proceedings against Mr. Acosta to intimidate and silence him in violation of his right to a fair trial as well as his right to the freedoms of association and expression. (English) (Español)


Tainted Stones: Bonded Labor and Child Labor in the India-U.S. Sandstone Supply Chain

The report recommends that all stakeholders, including the Government of India, and the U.S. government, as well as business enterprises involved in exporting, importing, mining, and processing, should ensure protection of human rights through due diligence and best practices in the sandstone mining industry’s supply chain. The recommendations propose a holistic approach that governments, companies, civil society organizations and trade unions should undertake to eradicate serious human rights violations from Rajasthan’s sandstone mining industry.