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Industry-specific Risk Factors

While barriers to the right to freedom of association exist in many industries, the following present particularly significant levels of risk. To identify potential risks to freedom of association for other industries, companies can access the CSR Risk Check.


According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), agricultural sector workers face particular challenges to the enjoyment of the right to freedom of association due to high levels of poverty and informality among agricultural workers.

Agriculture-specific risk factors include the following:

  • Informal employment: An overwhelming majority of agricultural workers — 93.6% — are not formally employed, and therefore face additional barriers to securing the right to free association given their informal or precarious working arrangements. They are often excluded from the coverage or implementation of national labour laws and social protections. Certain categories of workers — such as migrant workers, indigenous peoples and casual, seasonal or temporary workers — are particularly vulnerable. Yet they are more likely to be forced into the informal sector where it is much more difficult to organize.
  • Labour providers: A common feature of the agriculture sector is the presence of labour providers, such as employment or recruitment agencies. The Private Employment Agencies Convention, 1997 (No. 181) includes provisions concerning the right of temporary placement workers to organize; however, in practice barriers to organizing are high, making it more challenging for these workers to secure independent representation to advocate on their behalf.

IUF is the global union federation that represents agriculture workers and can be an important source of information for companies undertaking due diligence in this sector.

Helpful Resources
  • ILO, Guidelines for Stakeholders on the Right to Freedom of Association in Agriculture: These guidelines outline specific challenges and opportunities that arise out of securing freedom of association in the agricultural sector.
  • ILO, Giving a Voice to Rural Workers: General Survey Concerning the Right of Association and Rural Workers’ Organizations Instruments: This report examines the range of obstacles to the full realization of the right of agricultural workers to organize.
  • OECD-FAO, Guidance for Responsible Agricultural Supply Chains: This guidance provides a common framework to help agri-businesses and investors support sustainable development, including the protection of freedom of association.
  • FAO, Regulating Labour and Safety Standards in the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Sectors: This resource provides information on international labour standards that apply in agriculture, including those on freedom of association, and their integration into national legislation.
  • Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI), From Farm to Table: Ensuring Fair Labour Practices in Agricultural Supply Chains: This resource provides guidelines on what investors should be looking for from companies to eliminate labour abuses in their supply chains, including ensuring the right to free association.
  • Fairtrade International, Guide for Smallholder Farmer Organisations – Implementing Human Rights and Environmental Due Diligence (HREDD): This guidance was developed to provide advice and tools on HREDD for farmer organisations to implement.


Construction is a rapidly growing industry, and the proliferation of third-party recruitment agencies increases the risk of workers, the majority of whom are migrants, to labour rights violations. Migrant workers who are employed by third-party recruitment agencies are particularly vulnerable to exploitative working conditions and are often denied the right to join unions.

Construction-specific risk factors include the following:

  • Difficult working conditions: Working conditions are notoriously demanding and dangerous, with high levels of industrial accidents. Without the ability to join trade unions or other independent workers’ organizations, construction workers are often unable to effectively voice concerns regarding unsafe conditions.
  • Wage issues: Construction workers are particularly vulnerable to late or non-payment of wages for long periods as in many instances, contractors are not obliged to pay subcontractors until they have received payment from the client. Being blocked from joining unions hinders workers from raising these concerns.
  • Migrant workers: In some countries, migrant workers are prohibited by law from joining trade unions. Even if they are formally allowed to unionize, migrant workers may often find it difficult to access trade union protection. This is particularly due to the lack of formal documentation, such as resident or work visas, which may make them hesitant to seek the protection of formal institutions. In this respect, migrant workers often face limitations in accessing remedy. Even those who have formal documentation may be hesitant to unionize and avoid raising labour-related grievances for fear of losing their jobs or being deported. Migrant workers may also experience other difficulties with access to complaint mechanisms, due to language difficulties or hidden fees that they may not be able to afford.

Building and Woodworkers International is the global union federation that represents construction workers and can be an important source of information for companies undertaking due diligence in this sector.

Helpful Resources
  • ILO, Migrant Work & Employment in the Construction Sector: This resource looks at some of the barriers migrant workers can face in accessing adequate labour standards in the construction sector, including barriers to unionization. It includes recommendations for employers on how to ensure better working conditions for migrant workers.
  • Business and Human Rights Resource Centre, A Human Rights Primer for Business: Understanding Risks to Construction Workers in the Middle East: This resource provides specific regional advice for construction companies operating in the Middle East for key human rights risks to look out for, including violations of the right to free association.
  • BSR, Addressing Workers’ Rights in the Engineering and Construction Sector: This report looks at the challenges faced by engineering and construction companies to uphold workers’ rights, including restrictions to unionization. It provides proposed options for collaboration between stakeholders in the construction industry in tackling human rights issues, including ensuring the right to freedom of association.
  • Building Responsibly, Principle 9: Worker Representation is Respected: This guidance note provides members of the industry coalition advice on how to navigate potential challenges surrounding issues related to freedom of association. It provides recommendations for companies on how to build better labour relations with workers.

Fashion and Apparel

The fashion and apparel industry is likely to be linked to violations of the right to freedom of association.

Fashion and apparel specific risk factors include the following:

  • Subcontracting: The apparel manufacturing industry features a lot of subcontracting and outsourcing, which typically involves informal or casual employment arrangements. Workers in such precarious employment situations often lack union representation, making it challenging for them to secure decent working conditions.
  • South-East Asia: Major apparel manufacturing countries in South-East Asia are known to resort to repressive measures to contain union activity. Unionists and workers in such countries face exacerbated risks of being subject to excessive use of force by police or arbitrary detention while engaging in union activity, such as strikes or demonstrations.

IndustriALL is the global union federation that represents textile and garment workers and can be an important source of information for companies undertaking due diligence in this sector.

Helpful Resources
  • OECD, Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Supply Chains in the Garment & Footwear Sector: This guidance aims to help fashion and apparel businesses implement the due diligence recommendations contained in the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises in order to avoid and address the potential negative impacts of their activities and supply chains on a range of human rights, including the right of free association.
  • PRI, An Investor Briefing on the Apparel Industry: Moving the Needle on Labour Practices: This resource guides institutional investors on how to identify the scope for negative human rights impacts in the apparel industry, including those pertaining to freedom of association.
  • Fair Wear Foundation, Code of Labor Practices (CoLP) Standard on Freedom of Association and Collective Bargaining: policy guide for Fair Wear members to ensure workers enjoy freedom of association.

Mining and the Extractives Industry

The extractives industry has frequently been linked to violations of the right to freedom of association. Trade union associations are active and organized in large-scale mining (LSM), particularly through IndustriALL, the global union federation in this sector. Ongoing campaigns suggest that occupational health and safety, dismissal of workers, wages and working hours are among the most pertinent labour issues for trade unions operating in the LSM sector.

Artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM), by contrast, remains largely informal and nonunionized, despite its significant contribution to economies of major mining countries (particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa). As a result, many ASM workers remain unprotected. IndustriALL has recently called for the formalization of ASM activities, which would mean the extension of trade union coverage to also include ASM workers.

Risk factors specific to the extractive industry include the following:

  • Remote operations: Extractive operations often take place in remote or underdeveloped regions, where there are few other options in terms of employment. This puts workers in a vulnerable position, where they can feel pressured not to raise grievances related to working conditions to employers, for fear of termination of employment or receiving other sanctions. Losing employment at a mine often means the loss of a household’s only source of income.
  • Difficult working conditions: Working conditions in the mining industry are often demanding and dangerous. Frequent reports of companies blocking attempts by workers to unionize or strike hinder their ability to effectively voice concerns regarding unsafe conditions.
  • Labour providers: Increasingly, workers are recruited through agencies or other types of labour contractors. These workers are frequently excluded from social protections such as medical benefits, employment accident and disease benefits, and other allowances. They may also be dismissed more easily and quickly and face little prospect of their contracts being regularized. As contract workers, they face even more significant barriers to freedom of association and are put in an even more vulnerable position than workers with independent representation.

Workers in some oil and gas exporting countries face high security and human rights risks when trying to form and join unions or engage in collective bargaining. Companies may be hostile to workers’ organizations. In many countries, security providers target union leaders and prevent companies from creating associations.

Helpful Resources
  • Responsible Jewellery Council (RJC), Standards Guidance: This guidance provides a suggested approach for RJC members to implement the mandatory requirements of the RJC Code of Practice (COP), including respecting the right of employees to associate freely.
  • IPIECA, Worker Grievance Mechanisms: Guidance Document for the Oil and Gas Industry: This resource was developed to help oil and gas companies engage with worker grievance mechanisms, particularly with trade unions and labour forums.

Electronics Manufacturing

The electronics manufacturing industry poses freedom of association risks, with major electronics, telecommunications and technology brands facing allegations of labour rights violations, including imposing barriers to freedom of association.

Industry-specific risk factors include the following:

  • Job competition: Competition for jobs in the industry can be strong, particularly with respect to famous brands. This can result in workers, including apprentices or work experience candidates, working excessive hours without adequate rest. It also puts workers in a position where they may be hesitant to raise grievances regarding working conditions through unions or other workers’ groups.
  • Students: Student workers are given compulsory placements in electronics manufacturing factories, modelled as “internships”, where they are forced to work excessive hours and often go unpaid or earn extremely low wages. These student workers are typically excluded from union representation and lack access to recourse mechanisms.
  • Recruitment fees: Migrant workers are often subject to excessive recruitment fees, which often plunge them into debt bondage even before the start of employment. Their vulnerable positions put them in a situation where they are often too scared or unwilling to join trade unions.

IndustriALL is the global union federation that represents workers in the electronics sector and can be an important source of information for companies undertaking due diligence.

Helpful Resources
  • SOMO, Freedom of Association in the Electronics Industry: This paper examines monitoring and auditing efforts of electronics manufacturing companies to ensure workers have the right to freedom of association. It provides recommendations for companies on how to positively influence freedom of association in their supply chain.


The hospitality sector is linked to significant freedom of association risks, particularly when it involves migrant workers or other vulnerable groups, such as individuals hired through non-traditional employment arrangements.

Hospitality-specific risk factors include the following:

  • Outsourcing: Much of the hospitality sector relies on the outsourcing of services, such as cleaning, maintenance, and security. Workers who are recruited by outsourcing methods, such as through subcontractors or third-party labour suppliers, often lack worker representation or face barriers to freedom of association.
  • Migrant workers in the Middle East: Migrant workers employed in countries such as the United Arab Emirates (UAE) or Qatar face significant restrictions to freedom of association by law. Without intervention or facilitation by companies themselves to ensure that workers are adequately represented and have access to grievance mechanisms, migrant workers in these jurisdictions will be at significant risk of freedom of association violations.

IUF is the global union federation that represents hotel and restaurant workers and can be an important source of information for companies undertaking due diligence in this sector.

Helpful Resources
  • ILO, Guidelines on Decent Work and Socially Responsible Tourism: These guidelines provide practical information for developing and implementing policies and programmes to promote sustainable tourism and strengthen labour rights protection, including freedom of association.
  • Business and Human Rights Resource Centre, Inhospitable: How Hotels in Qatar & the UAE are Failing Migrant Workers: This report provides details on how companies in the UAE can uphold freedom of association principles, by looking at specific recommendations on introducing labour standards and conducting robust human rights due diligence.
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