Human Rights Campaigns

Worldwide, millions of immigrants who have left their home countries in search of work are subject to officially-sanctioned discrimination and unredressed workplace abuses.  Protection of basic workplace rights for immigrant workers is eroding in the United States, despite a ruling by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights that "the migratory status of a person can never be a justification for depriving him of the enjoyment and exercise of his human rights, including those related to employment."   Industries across our economy, including farm work, domestic work, day labor, home health care and the hospitality industry, benefit from labor law exemptions that leave many workers behind.

In this climate, NELP believes that using a human rights framework and message is a key tool for ensuring that immigrant workers achieve equal treatment in the United States.  We collaborate with grassroots community groups, immigrant rights organizations and academics to shine an international light on disenfranchised workers within the U.S., and on the organizations that support their campaigns for equality.

Several workers' rights campaigns in the U.S. owe their success to their use of a broader human rights message - such as United Workers of Baltimore's historic human rights campaign on behalf of workers at Camden Yards, and the Coalition of Immokalee Workers' anti-slavery campaigns in Florida. 

NELP's work in this area begins in communities, where our workers' rights curriculum has shown that human rights principles resonate powerfully.  In addition:

  • We have litigated on behalf of immigrant workers in international bodies, including in the landmark 2003 Inter-American Court of Human Rights decision establishing that all workers are entitled, as a matter of human rights, to equal protection of labor laws.

  • Our reports have provided analysis and real life stories to international treaty monitoring bodies, including reports to the UN's Committee on Migrant Workers, Human Rights Committee and Committee on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination.

  • Our human rights work links the overarching frame of human rights law to existing campaigns of those locked out of labor law protections - and, in turn, brings together the campaigns of individual industries under the umbrella of universal, inalienable rights.  Examples are New York's Domestic Workers' Bill of Rights Campaign, the Restaurant Opportunities Center's attempts to stop discrimination in the restaurant industry, and community efforts in Arizona by the National Day Labor Organizing Network affiliate to stop illegal raids against day laborers.

See also our work in the areas of Worksite Immigration Enforcement and No-Match, Immigrant Workers' Health and Safety, and Enforcement of Workplace Standards.

For more information on our work in this area, please contact Rebecca Smith,

Other key resources:

National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights

US Human Rights Network

American Civil Liberties Union Human Rights Project

Platform on International Cooperation on Undocumented Migrants

December 18

U.S. NGO responses to the U.S. 2007 Combined Periodic Reports to the International Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD)

CERD Concluding Observations, February 2008

Juridical Condition and Rights of the Undocumented Migrants, Inter-American Court of Human Rights, September 17, 2003

Report of U.S. Civil Society Organizations and Advocates in Response to the United States of American Second and Third Periodic Report to the United Nations  Human Rights Committee, 87th Sess., July 2006