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The Labor Rights Initiative coordinates technical legal assistance to at risk labor rights defenders, and works for the advancement of labor rights and the improvement of working conditions. Launched in July 2021, the Labor Rights Initiative expands on the Justice Defenders Program’s previous work on labor. It supports unions and worker rights organizations, as well as individual labor activists, in their pursuit for the realization of labor rights, including the right to freedom of association. The Initiative supports the use of international human rights mechanisms, such as the ILO supervisory mechanism, IACHR, the United Nations human rights protection mechanisms, and others. It also engages in direct advocacy with governments and employers within domestic judicial and non-judicial fora. It has worked in a number of countries, including Serbia, Ecuador, and India, on issues such as freedom of association, access to remedy, and forced labor.

Freedom of Association

The Labor Rights Initiative supports workers and unions in advancing labor rights through addressing barriers to organizing and collective bargaining and the expansion of non-standard forms of employment which deny workers their rights, especially of those already in vulnerable situations. (Photo Credit: Maruf Rahman/Pixabay)

State of the Right to Form and Join Unions in Ecuador

In July 2022, Labor Rights Initiative staff undertook a factfinding trip to Ecuador to engage with workers and unions, as well as government officials and other stakeholders, regarding the violation of labor rights. Workers reported on the irregular payment of salaries, a lack of sick or vacation time, exposure to pesticides, and women facing longer hours and less pay as priority issues. Workers and unions also stated alleged retaliation, including termination and blacklisting, against unionized workers, as well as delays or refusal by the government to register unions. (PC: Naomi Glassman-Majara)

Read the trip report - Here

Freedom of Association in Serbia

The Labor Rights Initiative published a Commentary on Serbia’s Draft Law on Seasonal and Other Occasional Employment, discussing how the proposed draft law expands the category of workers considered as non-standard employees, potentially pushing entire sectors outside of a traditional employment relationship and denying workers their right to freedom of association. The commentary also emphasizes that the draft law has the potential to worsen conditions for migrant workers, who already face poor working conditions and a lack of regulation of existing labor law in the country. (Photo Credit: hpgruesen, 2017,

Read more - Here

Freedom of Association in Serbia Cont.

Upon the Serbian government's introduction of a Revised Draft Law on Employment in Seasonal and Other Casual Jobs in Certain Industries on Migrant Workers and the Right to Unionize, the Labor Rights Initiative published a revised commentary. The Revised Draft Law remains overly broad, posing serious risks for the deterioration of labor rights across eligible sectors under the law. (Photo Credit: USACE, 2014, Flickr)

Read more - HERE

Labor and Gender in Tajikistan

The Labor Rights Initiative supports Office of Civil Freedoms, a local NGO in Tajikistan, to research the participation of women in industries traditionally dominated by men, including those where positions are formally classified as “too hard” for women. It aims to advocate for the removal of certain positions and industries from the prohibition list, as well as the end of other discriminatory practices against women, engaging with both business and government stakeholders. (Photo Credit: Gennadiy Ratushenko, 2010, Flickr)

Corporate Accountability

The Labor Rights Initiative pursues corporate accountability in specific cases of abuse and promotes improved corporate practices through direct engagement. (Photo Credit: UUSC4All, 2007, Flickr.)

Forced and Bonded Labor in India

The Justice Defenders Program published a report documenting widespread bonded labor, child labor, low wages, and inhumane working conditions in the sandstone industry in Rajasthan, India. The report urges the Indian government to effectively implement laws to reduce and penalize these human rights violations. The Labor Rights Initiative expands on this work and engages directly with U.S. importers of Rajasthan-sourced sandstone to improve their due diligence practices across their supply chains. (Photo Credit: Mahitosh Bagoria, HEDCON)

Read the report - here

Access to Remedy

In partnership with the local grassroots organization ASTRA Anti-Trafficking Action, the Labor Rights Initiative issue working with local and international NGOs and labor lawyers to secure access to remedy for a group of migrant workers who experienced wage theft and other labor rights violations. (Photo Credit: Bernard Spragg, 2012, Flickr.)

Judicial Harassment

The Labor Rights Initiative conducts trial observations in cases of criminalization of union leaders and labor rights defenders. (Photo Credit: Thmey Thmey Media)

Jorge Acosta

The Justice Defenders Program published a trial observation report on the criminal complaints against Jorge Acosta, the coordinator of the ASTAC banana workers’ union in Ecuador. The report concludes that proceedings were characterized by numerous irregularities and were “the result of an improper motive…namely a desire to intimidate the defendant and interfere with lawful organizing activities.” (Photo Credit: Naomi Glassman-Majara)

Read the report - here

Obert Masaraure

The Labor Rights Initiative is currently monitoring the cases against Obert Masaraure, national president of the rural teachers’ union ARTUZ. Masaraure faces charges of murder, in connection with the death of a colleague in which an investigation previously cleared Masaruare of wrongdoing, and incitement to public violence in connection with social media posts. Local and international NGOs believe these criminal charges are in retaliation for Masaraure’s labor organizing. (Photo Credit: Talentkulkat, 2020, Wikimedia Commons).

Read our statement - here

Pre-Trial Observation Report: Zimbabwe v. Obert Masaraure

This report details the fundmanetal freedoms violations and fair trial violations in the pre-trial stages of the two cases against Obert Masaraure. The charges fit into a consistent pattern of arrests, charges, and criminal proceedings that amount to an attack on labor rights and the criminalization of union leaders in Zimbabwe. (Photo Credit: ARTUZ.)

Read the report - HERE