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World of work a critical arena for minority and indigenous peoples’ rights – new global report highlights

15 June 2022

Minority Rights Group International (MRG) releases its annual report today, with this year’s edition offering a broad scrutiny of work-related exclusion across the world.  

‘The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the many challenges that minorities and indigenous peoples face in the workplace,’ says Carl Söderbergh, MRG’s Director of Policy and Communications, and lead reviewer of the volume. ‘The world of work all too often reinforces broader societal inequalities. From life-threatening working conditions and racist barriers to promotion, to forced labour and even slavery, the diverse human rights abuses produced by today’s global economy warrant urgent attention.’    

Exclusion is evidenced at every level of employment, from local informal sectors to the multinational operations of big business. Discrimination can be deeply structural, with roots in caste and slavery, but its impacts are very contemporary, such as through the precarious nature of much of the gig economy.  

‘While the discrimination and exploitation that minorities and indigenous peoples face at work have specific histories rooted in local contexts, the legacy of colonialism is felt through the ever-more interlinked nature of worldwide supply chains which globalize a range of human rights abuses’, emphasises Söderbergh. 

The report presents eight urgent recommendations for governments, civil society and the international community to realize a truly fair and inclusive labour market for marginalized groups. 

Through analysis of ten global themes, Minorities and Indigenous Trends 2022: Focus on Work draws out findings across a wide range of areas, from the continuing impact of colonialism in today’s economy to the persistence of slavery and caste-based discrimination. Issues examined by case studies include the vulnerabilities of undocumented migrants and refugees, the capacity of the education sector to redress or reinforce inequality, and the destructive effects of extractive industries and conservation efforts alike on traditional livelihoods. 

With contributions from experts and across the ten themes, the edition features cases from over 25 countries from every region of the world. A few examples reported include: 

  • In Qatar, the situation of migrant workers exemplifies how labour flows are often entangled with exploitation and abuse. A migrant worker turned activist presents a first-hand account of the poor living and working conditions endured by the migrant labourers propping up Qatar’s construction industry, as well as the scrutiny he faced for speaking out. His hopes for the 2022 FIFA World Cup are to bring the world’s attention to the stark reality faced by those who are making the tournament possible. 
  • In Mauritania, the criminalization of slavery has not brought true equality for the Haratine population. Those still deprived of their freedom are almost exclusively women, while former slaves and their descendants face exclusion in numerous areas of society. The case study illustrates how this discrimination keeps Haratines – liberated or not – trapped in economic subjugation, consigned to arduous manual labour, landless in rural areas, or still forced to pay tribute to landowners.
  • In China, Uyghurs and Kazakhs in Xinjiang’s mass internment camps are forced to work for little or no pay. This chapter illuminates how China’s domination of the world’s cotton market makes persecution in Xinjiang a global issue; with one in five of all cotton garments a product of forced labour in China and a slew of multinational brands implicated, governments, companies and consumers across the world are all contributing towards China’s continuing abuse of its Muslim minorities.  
  • In the United States, Black American and Latinx workers – disproportionately represented in its gig economy – are fighting back against the unsafe and precarious conditions they face as casualized workers, creating the first Amazon Labour Union (ALU) in US history. The example shows a modern face of the US’s long history of union-busting and the economic disenfranchisement of Black Americans. Nevertheless, the victory of the ALU and its key organizer, Chris Smalls, against the corporate giant is a historic achievement that testifies to the power of Black workers’ labour activism. 

The ten themes analysed are agriculture, construction, education and training, extractives and natural resources, manufacturing and logistics, precarious work, services, slavery, tourism and traditional livelihoods. Countries covered include: 

‘It is critical that minorities and indigenous peoples are given full access to the same labour rights, protections and support as those enjoyed by others and guaranteed by international law,’ says Söderbergh. ‘This would deliver them their fair share of the economic gains their countries enjoy and go a long way towards overturning the broader marginalisation they face.’  

 Notes to editors

  • Explore the report online. You can download the report for free or order a hard copy from this page.*
  • Information to join the report launch event online at 1 pm BST today, 15 June 2022, is available here.
  • Minority Rights Group International (MRG) is the leading international human rights organization working to secure the rights of ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities and indigenous peoples. We work with more than 150 partners in over 50 countries.
  • Visit MRG’s online World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples, used globally and updated frequently, with more than 20 entries updated this year alone. 

For more information contact the MRG Press Office.

Photo: Construction workers walking inside the Lusail Stadium while it is under construction for the 2022 FIFA football World Cup. In preparation for the tournament, Qatar spent billions of dollars on an infrastructure programme that requires vast numbers of migrant workers, but its treatment of migrants has raised concern internationally. Lusail, Qatar. Credit: Adam Davy / Alamy.

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