By Meaghan Fortune, ILRF intern
On Wednesday, December 10th, ILRF is releasing ‘Working for Scrooge: 5 Worst Companies for the Right to Associate.’ December 10th marks the international labor rights day in which the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted by the UN. The ‘Worst 5 List’ will be a reminder that one of the main tenets guaranteed by this document is a worker’s right to organize. Yet, multinational corporations all around the world actively violate workers’ freedom of association. Being as I got to take part in this project, the biggest obstacle for me was narrowing down the options to only five. To be honest, I was pretty overwhelmed by the amount of reports I was able to find, and have quickly realized that violence against trade unions is not a thing of the past. Incidents of harassment, massive layoffs and even killings/disappearances are all too common for many laborers of the global South. Though we can’t release the chosen 5 until Wednesday, I decided to mention several companies that almost made the cut.
One main contender was Chiquita, who has been under the radar recently for its funding of paramilitaries in Colombia. When put on trial last year, the corporation admitted to paying $1.7 million to the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), who has been categorized as a terrorist group by the US government. Though the company claimed these funds were for workers security, most in the banana-growing region take a very different stance. The family members of trade unionists, banana workers and activists who filed the lawsuit allege that the AUC has committed the tortures, killings and disappearances of workers.
A second major offender is Chevron. Just in the past few months, Chevron has been accused of supporting the Nigerian military in 1998, when troops split up a protest at an offshore oil rig. The incident ended with two of the protesters being killed.  In August of 2007, Federal Judge Susan Illston voiced her opinion over the situation:
“It is apparent that [Chevron Nigeria] and [Nigerian forces] had a much closer relationship between private parties and law enforcement officials in this county. The [Nigerian forces] were on the [Chevron Nigeria] payroll and engaged in extensive security work for [Chevron Nigeria].”
Even in the U.S., challenges to organize are repeatedly ignored. Smithfield foods, which is based in North Carolina, has received much criticism for failing to negotiate with unions over worker rights. Claims of mistreatment and unlawful firings continue to be voiced by hundreds of employees. Fortunately, some progress has been made and after 15 years of struggle by the workers of Smithfield’s plant in Tar Heel, a fair election process has been agreed upon by management. Though this is a step in the right direction, there is still much more work that needs to be done.
I realize these examples may seem very scattered and dissociated, but it just goes to show how prevalent this issue is in today global economy. Violence against trade unions is a common occurrence and continues to be a profit-maximizing tactic for major corporations worldwide.
Remember this Wednesday to check out which 5 corporations made the cut, and what you can do to stop their violations!