Worker Organizing, Empowerment and Rights as a Bedrock of Democracy: A Joint Funder Statement and Call to Action at the Summit for Democracy

December 7, 2021 — This week the Biden-Harris Administration will host the first of two Summits for Democracy. The Summit will convene government, civil society, and private sector leaders from around the world to promote global democratic renewal that safeguards against authoritarianism and corruption and promotes human rights. Recognizing that strong labor movements are essential for vibrant, functioning democracies that ensure worker voice in the workplace, in the community, and in the political system, the Summit will include a specific track on worker empowerment and rights. Commitments made at the upcoming Summit will lead to a Year of Action and a culminating Summit in 2022.

Our Commitment

FORGE funders applaud the Biden-Harris Administration’s initiative to elevate workers’ rights in the Summit and the Year of Action, and its focus on enabling action in both the US and across the globe. Democratic values and practices at work create a powerful tool against inequality, authoritarianism, and corruption. Philanthropy has a role to play here. For our part, we’ve already committed our support and collective resources of $100 million to strengthen workers’ rights and organizations to ensure these goals translate into concrete outcomes for workers worldwide. When we think about the scale of the world’s issues and how we can actually create tangible and long-term change, it’s clear that philanthropy cannot do it alone. We need governments, the private sector, and civil society to join us in a shared mission to increase the influence of workers and strengthen workers’ rights across the globe. This effort entails increasing our collective investments to strengthen the capacity of democratic workers’ organizations to promote worker rights, to ensure freedom of association and assembly, and to improve wages and working conditions to advance justice for the most marginalized workers.

Governments must address economic equity and inclusion as core to democracy. We urge global leaders to prioritize economic and social equity and inclusion as essential for healthy democracies. The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed deep structural inequalities in our global economy. The Summit offers a unique opportunity to build a more inclusive and equitable global economic model, to bolster corporate and financial accountability, and to chart an alternative pathway toward a just, equitable, and sustainable recovery.

Workers’ rights are human rights and are core to a working democracy. Workers and their representative organizations have played a pivotal role in movements for democracy and human rights around the globe. FORGE calls on the governments gathering this week to prioritize vulnerable workers in their policy proposals and to mobilize and commit resources to strengthen core labor rights and protections. The ability of all workers to organize, assemble, and bargain collectively – rights which long-standing labor laws and new due diligence rules require business to respect – is critical to democratic and fair workplaces, and to democratic and open societies. When working families struggle to meet basic needs, effective civic participation becomes that much harder, thereby undermining democracy.  An independent, inclusive, and vibrant labor movement is necessary to counter disproportionate concentrations of economic and political power.

All workers are essential. Freedom of association, assembly, and collective bargaining enable systemic solutions to precarious and unsafe working conditions, low wages, forced and child labor, workplace violence, harassment, and discrimination, and the absence of universal social protection. These fundamental labor rights belong to all workers. Yet today, too many workers are excluded from basic protections. Informal workers, who make up more than 60% of the world’s workforce and 90% of workers in developing countries, often lack trade union representation and tend to work in jobs without access to basic social protections. Through progressive leadership and grassroots activism, unions across the globe are becoming more inclusive, finding creative ways to extend labor rights to all workers. We look forward to seeing more advances on this front.

Philanthropy plays an important role in addressing these challenges, as our commitment demonstrates. In 2021, FORGE members including the Ford Foundation, Fundación Avina, Humanity United, Laudes Foundation, and Open Society Foundations have invested $100 million to advance a social justice agenda that ensures equitable opportunity, livelihoods, and rights for workers at risk around the world. Philanthropy alone cannot reach the necessary scale, which is why we believe that governments have a critical role to play, in addition to the private sector, to address the extent of the challenges. Together, we can join with labor movements, civil society, and academia to work at scale and in concert to secure the rights of all workers to dignified, sustainable jobs that ensure their economic prosperity and their voice in the workplace, in the community and in the political system. In turn, their agency will foster and protect democracy around the world.

The FORGE (Funders Organized for Rights in the Global Economy) donor collaborative unites leading foundations to advance a global economy that works for all people and the planet, shaped by and accountable to worker- and community-led movements. At the intersection of human rights and economic, social, and climate justice, FORGE works to strengthen the accountability of corporate, financial, and other economic actors and to address gaps in global economic and financial systems. FORGE funders include the Ford Foundation, Fundación Avina, Humanity United, Laudes Foundation, Open Society Foundations, SAGE Fund, True Costs Initiative, Wallace Global Fund, and Wellspring Philanthropic Fund. We collaborate through a learning agenda, aligned funding, joint advocacy, and pooled funding through the Response and Vision Fund.