Paul Whitehead, Dr. Michael Fichter, Dr Frank Hoffer, Stefanie Lorenzen, Christoph Scherrer, Victor Ricco, Ben Scully, Beatriz Vacotto, Peter Rossman, Prof Mark Anner, Penn State University, Jeffrey Vogt, Fernando Lopes, Camilo Rubiano, Esther Busser, Maité Llanos, Tandiwe Gross, and Bruno Dobrusin

Workers' Rights in a Global Economy

  • FREE
  • English
  • Interdisciplinary

What is the course about?

This course has ended. You can enrol in our free course on International Labour Standards: how to use them which is a short, self-paced version of this MOOC. You can also check other upcoming other online courses of the Global Labour University here

Rights and dignity at the workplace are fundamental human rights. However, workers’ rights continue to be violated every day - millions of people worldwide are facing exploitative working hours, poverty wages, humiliation and mistreatment at work. There are estimates that today’s world has a higher number of slaves than any other time in history.

This MOOC discusses what Global Workers’ Rights are and which instruments and strategies can be used to implement them. Based on a careful mix of video lectures, readings, online resources and interviews with activists and labour scholars from around the world, you will gain both knowledge and practical skills for furthering workers’ rights worldwide. In some countries, the online learning experience will be complemented with local workshops and the results of the local discussions will be uploaded into the MOOC for a truly global learning experience.

What will I learn

At the end of the course you will understand the history and concept of global workers’ rights and the institutional structure of the International Labour Organization (ILO) as the key player in setting International Labour Standards. You will be able to join the economic debate about labour standards and competitiveness, and understand the concepts behind the fundamental rights of Freedom of Association and Collective Bargaining. You will understand the different approaches for realizing decent work in the informal economy and gain an overview of instruments and initiatives beyond the ILO and trade union strategies in global supply chains. The course also allows you to apply this knowledge to a practical case from your country and gain skills and competencies for using the existing instruments and mechanisms for promoting workers’ rights worldwide.

What do I need to know?

The course requires a working level of English and draws on the fields of political science and law at the level of a Master's programme. However, theoretical concepts are explained in an accessible and well-illustrated way, so it is also possible to participate in the course based on skills and knowledge acquired outside formal education.

Course Structure

Chapter 1: The concept of Global Workers’ Rights

This chapter introduces the concept of Global Workers’ Rights and explains the history and functioning of the International Labour Organization (ILO) as the organization setting International Labour Standards (ILS). The prospects and challenges of the ILO approach to Global Workers’ Rights are debated, and you will learn about the mainstream economic arguments against ILS and how to assess them critically. Participants will be invited to share relevant material on labour rights issues in an interactive world map.

Chapter 2: Introduction to International Labour Standards (ILS)

Which types of International Labour Standards exist and how are they set? Which actors are involved and how are they interlinked? This chapter provides an overview on International Labour Standards and lays the foundation for understanding the standard setting mechanisms at the ILO. The role of trade unions in this process is illustrated through a concrete example of a recent and ground-breaking Convention for one of the most vulnerable groups of workers. In addition, an optional unit invites delegates to the International Labour Conference of the ILO to deepen their knowledge on the functioning of the Conference.

Chapter 3: Supervision of International Labour Standards (ILS)

This chapter aims at enabling you to understand and use the ILO supervisory mechanisms for the protection of workers’ rights. The elaborate process is illustrated in a concise and hands-on way, complemented by practical insights from insiders. At the end of the chapter, the mid-term assignment invites you to apply your newly acquired knowledge to a practical case from your country. The assignment is due at the end of chapter 4. This assignment will allow you to extend your knowledge on the labour rights situation in other countries and to learn from each other.

Chapter 4: Freedom of Association and Collective Bargaining

Freedom of Association and Collective Bargaining are ‘enabling rights’ at the heart of decent work. But what is the legal concept of Freedom of Association under Convention 87 and what makes it fundamental to the implementation of International Labour Standards? This chapter will also provide you with an overview on the current debate on the right to strike and show practical insights on Freedom of Association and Collective Bargaining.

Chapter 5: Access to rights for workers in informal and precarious employment

This chapter focuses on the challenge of realizing rights for workers in informal and precarious employment. We will explore the specific dynamics in the informal economy and innovative approaches for increasing workers’ protection in this challenging field, including examples of successful organising strategies in the informal economy from India, South Africa and Zimbabwe.

Chapter 6: Company responsibility to respect ILS: Norms, Standards, Principles

This chapter discusses key instruments and initiatives beyond the ILO in the struggle for global workers’ rights. What are the main instruments of Corporate Social Responsibility? How can the OECD Guidelines and the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights be used to promote workers’ rights? And what are legislative approaches to hold companies accountable for workers’ rights violations in global supply chains?

Chapter 7: Trade union strategies for promoting ILS in global supply chains
What are strategies of labour for realizing decent work in global supply chains? This concluding chapter looks at innovative trade union strategies in global supply chains and opens a space for discussion on the role of trade unions in the governance of workers’ rights in a global economy.

Final exam: Multiple-choice-test

Students choosing the certificate track will have one week study time before taking a multiple choice test on the course content.

If you complete the certificate track, you can apply for a GLU scholarship to participate in the 11th Global Labour University Conference, South Africa, 2016 on “The Just Transition and the Role of Labour: Our Ecological, Social, and Economic Future”, September 28 to 30, 2016, Johannesburg, South Africa. We will cast a lot among the applicants to select to MOOC certificate students for a GLU scholarship to participate in the conference (covering travel and accommodation at the Conference). For more information on the Conference keep an eye on

Line-up of contributors

Prof. Paul Whitehead

  • Professor of Practice in Labor Studies and Employment Relations at Penn State University, USA
  • Main areas of interest: Trade unions, collective bargaining, labor and employment law, international labor law, international human resources, trade law, and programs for pensions, health care, and social security

Prof. Mark Anner, Ph.D.

  • Associate Professor of Labor and Employment Relations, and Political Science at Penn State University, USA
  • Main areas of interest: Global Apparel Industry, Labour movements in Latin America, Corporate Social Responsibility, Strikes in Vietnam

Esther Busser

  • Deputy Director, Geneva Office of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC)
  • Main areas of interest: social dialogue, training, research, employment, trade, migration, sectorial activities and policies, multinational enterprises, small and medium enterprises

Prof. Dr. Stefanie Lorenzen

  • Professor of Employment and Labour Law at the Berlin School of Economics and Law, Department of Business and Economics, Germany
  • Main areas of interest: employment law, co-determination, right to collective bargaining, international and European labour law

Fernando Lopes

  • Assistant General Secretary of IndustriALL Global Union
  • Main areas of interest: global labour movement, global framework agreements

Dr. Michael Fichter

  • Senior Lecturer at the Global Labour University, Germany
  • Main areas of interest: global labour relations, trade unions, political economy

Dr. Frank Hoffer

  • Economist and Senior Research Officer, Bureau for Workers’ Activities, ILO.
  • Main areas of interest: Wages Policies, Social Protection, International Research Cooperation

Victor Hugo Ricco

  • Lawyer and Technical officer, Bureau for Workers’ Activities, ILO
  • Main areas of interest: International Labour Standards, Informal Economy, Forced labour

Camilo Rubiano

  • Trade union rights & national administration officer at Public Services International (PSI)
  • Main areas of interest: international labour standards, freedom of association

Prof. Dr. Christoph Scherrer

  • Professor for Globalization and Politics, Social Science Department of the University of Kassel, Germany
  • Main areas of interest: International Political Economy: Governance of world markets, international labor standards, cross-national transfer of institutions, theories of the International Political Economy

Dr. Ben Scully

  • Lecturer at the University of Witwatersrand, South Africa
  • Main areas of interest: Precarious Work, Economic Development, Social Welfare in the Global South

Beatriz Vacotto

  • Legal specialist and Coordinator of the Wages, Working Time, Maritime and Specific Workers Team, International Labour Standards Department, ILO
  • Main areas of interest: Support to trade unions on issues related to International Labour Standards and the ILO supervisory mechanisms.

Jeffrey Vogt

  • Legal Director, International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC)
  • Main areas of interest: trade and labour standards, freedom of association, precarious work, comparative labour law

Further contributors:

Maria Helena André (Director of the Bureau for Workers’ Activities, ILO)

Zeynep Aklar (Trade union activist with DİSK/Sosyal-İs, Turkey)

Pratik Baviskar (Organiser at the trade union Learn Mahila Kaamgar Sangathan, India)

Magda Biavaschi, Ph.D. (Assistant Professor at University of Campinas, Brazil)

Karen Curtis (Chief of the Freedom of Association Branch, International Labour Standards Department, ILO)

Kirstine Drew (Senior policy advisor to the Trade Union Advisory Council to the OECD)

Eulogia Familia (Vice-President of the National Confederation of Trade Union Unity in the Dominican Republic)

Prof. Jayati Ghosh (Professor of Economics at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, India)

Tandiwe Gross (Associate Expert at the Bureau for Workers’ Activities, ILO)

Renana Jhabvala (National coordinator of the Self-employed Women’s Association, India)

Maité Llanos (Project coordinator at the Global Labour University)

Wisborn Malaya (Secretary General at Zimbabwe Chamber of Informal Economy Associations, Zimbabwe)

Luisa Nxumalo (Organiser at the Congress of South African Trade Unions, South Africa)

Isabel Ortiz (Director of the Social Protection Department, ILO)

Image Copyright (above): ILO/Crozet M

Course instructors