for Labor Rights
We believe that all working people have certain core rights, which we are committed to defending:
- to form and join unions, and to bargain collectively for better conditions at work
- to earn enough to support themselves and their families, so that children do not have to work
- to work freely, without force or coercion
- to be free from discrimination in the workplace
History of the ICLR
The International Commission for Labor Rights (ICLR) was started in 2002 by a group of lawyers from around the world, dedicated to supporting workers' and trade union rights. Confronted with the increasing difficulty of defending these rights in isolation in their own countries – as corporations, supply chains, investment, and workers themselves crossed international borders more and more – the lawyers resolved to create a network to enable them to share information and strategies.
Today, there are more than 300 lawyers around the world who are part of the ICLR network. These lawyers are able to respond rapidly to requests for facts related to particular violations, legal advice, expert opinions, information on political realities country-by-country, concrete experiences with different legal and political fora. In addition, ICLR has convened delegations of lawyers, at the request of individual unions and global federations, to investigate allegations of labor rights violations in specific countries and contexts, writing reports that have formed the basis of domestic litigation and international complaints.
The work of the ICLR network is coordinated through a small non-profit based in New York, which also engages in substantial outreach, both to legal experts to expand the network, and to small unions and grassroots workers' organizations to ensure that they have access to ICLR's experts for research, advice, and complaints to domestic and international bodies.
How can a lawyers' network support workers' rights?
Unions, grassroots workers' organizations and the lawyers who support them are all too aware that basic guarantees for workers are in a state of crisis, worldwide:
- Constantly shifting sites of production and employment relationships, placing jobs in perpetual uncertainty
- Labor law “reforms” and reduced enforcement of existing laws
- The erosion of social security
- Weakened protections for the right to form and join unions
- The continuing epidemic of forced labor
ICLR believes that interventions that are informed by comparative and international law expertise can make a difference. For example:
- At the request of UE, which is campaigning for repeal of a North Carolina law barring collective bargaining for public employees, ICLR brought together a group of lawyers with expertise in public sector unionism. The lawyers analyzed the problem through the lens of seven national jurisdictions that permit and enable public sector workers to organize and bargain collectively, developing arguments based not only on rights, but also on efficiency and governance.
- ICLR was approached by three union federations in Colombia to report on impunity with respect to the murders of trade unionists. The report was successfully used by Colombian unionists and their allies to lobby the International Labour Organization to send a mission of inquiry, which has led to the ILO having a permanent monitoring presence in the country.
- Lawyers from ICLR's network analyzed compensation schemes for workplace-related deaths and injuries from six different countries, at the request of the Clean Clothes Campaign in the Netherlands. The research was successfully used in negotiations for compensation with prominent European retailers sourcing from a garment factory in Bangladesh that had collapsed – under Bangladeshi law, the injured workers and the families of those killed would have had nowhere to turn except to a bankrupt employer and a Workers Compensation law unaltered since 1923.