United Nations: Human Rights Include Worker Rights

Safety in the workplace is one of the most fundamental rights to which all workers – including immigrants without legal status – are entitled. The United Nations and regional human rights bodies and treaties have recognized this human right and others that apply to all workers.

Immigrant workers, who make up the majority of the labor force in the poultry industry, are equally protected whether they come to work through a work visa or do not have work authorization.1

The Inter-American Court for Human Rights has found that immigration status must not affect the applicability of human rights within a nation’s borders. It cited, among various sources, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which requires that each country “undertakes to respect and to ensure to all individuals within its territory and subject to its jurisdiction the rights recognized in the present Covenant, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.”2

Not only are employers responsible for upholding the basic rights of their workers, but the country in which those workers perform their labor is also responsible for enforcing these rights and can be held accountable for failing to do so. Several instruments3 set forth the basic rights of workers. Among these rights are:
• A safe and healthful workplace
• Compensation for workplace injuries and illnesses
• Freedom of association and the right to form trade unions and bargain collectively
• Equality of conditions and rights for immigrant workers
• Right to rest and leisure
• Rights against all forms of forced or compulsory labor
• Rights against discrimination in respect of employment and occupation
• An adequate standard of living for the employee and the employee’s family



[1] See Human Rights Watch, Immigrant Workers in the United States Meat and Poultry Industry, Submission to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Committee on Migrant Workers, Dec. 15, 2005.

[2] Juridical Condition and Rights of the Undocumented Migrants, Advisory Opinion OC-18/03, Inter-Am. Ct. H.R. (Ser. A) No. 18, Sept. 17, 2003 (quoting Int’l Covenant on Civ. & Pol. Rts., art. II).

[3] Treaties and other human rights instruments addressing the rights of workers include: The Universal Declaration of Human Rights; the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR); the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR); and the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families; the American Convention on Human Rights; the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man; the Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work; and the Occupational Safety and Health Convention.