The Best (And Worst) Countries For Workers

When it comes to workers rights, the U.S. scores shockingly low compared to other countries. Right on par with Iraq, Haiti, and Iran. The best countries? Mostly just where you’d expect.

It’s no surprise Norway and Denmark get top marks in a global ranking of workers rights. These countries have long labor traditions, as well as laws and enforcement to back up their principles. Likewise, it’s no surprise that Qatar comes low in the ranking, where hundreds of workers are dying building stadiums for the 2022 World Cup.


But the United States? That is a surprise. The U.S. gets a 4–the second worst number–meaning it’s guilty of “systematic violation of rights,” according to the International Trade Union Confederation, the world’s largest trade union federation. The full definition of a “4” reads:

Workers in countries with the rating of 4 have reported systematic violations. The government and/or companies are engaged in serious efforts to crush the collective voice of workers putting fundamental rights under continuous threat.

The ITUC ranks 139 countries in all, based on 97 indicators. That includes rights like freedom of association (being able to form a union), collective bargaining, and the right to strike. Top ranking countries (“Irregular Violation of Rights”) generally observe these liberties, while those at the bottom don’t (“No guarantee of rights”).

“The U.S. has not ratified core labour standards set by international law,” Makbule Sahan, the lead author of the report, wrote in an email. “Even though the country has an extremely high inequality rate and limited social protection, workers are repressed whenever they ask for better working conditions.”


A Selection of Country Rankings

  • Scoring a “1” (best category): Belgium, Denmark, Netherlands, Norway, Lithuania
  • Scoring a “2”: Spain, Serbia, Tunisia, Russian Federation, Rwanda
  • Scoring a “3”: Poland, Paraguay, Namibia, Israel, Ghana
  • Scoring a “4”: United States, Iran, Iraq, Haiti, Honduras
  • Scoring a “5” (worst category): Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, India, Turkey.

Scoring a 4 puts the U.S. on par with countries like Iraq, Iran, and Sierra Leone, though it’s worse in Bangladesh, India, and Guatemala. Eight countries–including Syria, Ukraine, and Somalia–are not ranked at all, because their states are deemed too weak to protect workers, even if they wanted to.

Overall, last year, 35 countries “arrested or imprisoned workers as a tactic to resist demands for democratic rights, decent wages, safer working conditions, and secure jobs.” And workers in 53 countries were dismissed or suspended because they sought better working conditions. What’s clear? There’s a lot of room for improvement in all but a few nations.


About the author

Ben Schiller is a New York staff writer for Fast Company. Previously, he edited a European management magazine and was a reporter in San Francisco, Prague, and Brussels.


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