Document Type

Working Paper

Publication Date



Yes, it’s true: Workers are human, they are not commodities, they are not factors of production. People with an interest in human rights should therefore be as interested in the oppression of workers as they in the oppression of people of colour or women or disabled people. But labour rights and human rights are not easily collapsed into a single category. Labour rights have historically been framed as collective, human rights as individual, labour rights are class-based, human rights claim to be universal in their justification and application. Labour rights have generally been vindicated through economic and political action, human rights have been advanced through cultural and social change and, more recently, through litigation. Labour has tended to assert its rights at the level of the workplace and the nation state, human rights movements in recent years have tended to be trans-national. And a point of some importance: Labour rights have tended to be marginalized in the shaping of the new global economic order, while human rights have been embraced by adherents of the Washington consensus as both a precondition and consequence of global capitalism.