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7 Mar 2024

Mark Anner and Matthew Fischer-Daly, United States Department of Labor and The Pennsylvania State University Center for Global Workers' Rights

Most effective form of worker voice is collective representation, finds new report, arguing against individual and corporate social responsibility mechanisms

"Worker voice: What it is, what it is not, and why it matters"

The term “worker voice” has been used by practitioners, policymakers, and scholars to cover a broad range of institutions and mechanisms, from suggestion boxes and corporate social responsibility programs to trade unions and enforceable brand agreements.

The challenge of establishing what is and what is not effective worker voice is exacerbated by attempts at voice in non-standard and precarious work, including in global supply chains, informal work, agriculture and domestic work, authoritarian regimes, and segments of the economy with undocumented migrant workers and child labor.

Through an exhaustive exploration of the literature, roundtable discussions, interviews with top experts in the field, focus groups, and a deep dive into seven case studies, this report finds that the most effective forms of worker voice are institutions and mechanisms that enhance workers’ ability to elect, represent, protect, include, enable, and empower workers and their organizations.

The report finds that democratic trade unions and collective bargaining most clearly fit the definition of effective worker voice. The study also finds that enforceable brand agreements (EBAs), the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) Rapid Response Labor Mechanism (RRLM), organizing along migration corridors and among domestic workers and in agriculture, and freedom of association protocols all contribute to worker voice.

Individual voice mechanisms such as suggestion boxes, corporate social responsibility programs, management control participation committees, and mandatory due diligence under authoritarian rule are not effective worker voice mechanisms because they do not meet the criteria established above.

Key considerations for policymakers include the importance of universal application of legal protections of worker voice, of worker voice as a means for strengthening labor law enforcement, and of worker voice as a means for enhancing economic and crisis management.