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Corporate human rights violations

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Since their conception as modern privately owned enterprises, corporations have engaged in a wide variety of human rights violations with or without the assistance of governments. Often these violations are centered around labor exploitation and attempts to establish indentured servitude by creating company townsWikipedia in which only company credits can be used as currency and entrapping their workers in unpayable debt.


The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is the foremost document for defining human rights. In particular, corporations have violated Articles 3, 4, 5, 12, 20, 23, 24 and 25 of the UDHR. There are also other important international documents that seek to legislate workers' rights, particularly the conventions set up by the International Labour Organization,Wikipedia which itself is part of the United Nations, focusing primarily on forced labor and child labor as well protect the rights of labor unions.

Miscellaneous violations[edit]

Strike breaking and union busting[edit]

Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.
— Article 20, Universal Declaration of Human Rights
Militiamen with bayonets surrounding a group of strikers during the 1912 Lawrence strike

Union busting and strike breaking are the methods by which corporations have tried to prevent workers from joining a union and fight for their own rights. The Pinkertons became major union busters from the late 19th to early 20th century, while continuing its detective work[1] Though it should be noticed that the largest union buster in America is the federal government itself by using the antitrust laws, concieved by progressives to crack down and dismantle monopolies, to prevent union organizing.[2]

4) Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.
— Article 23, Universal Declaration of Human Rights

When workers attempt to organize unions they're fired.[3][4][5]

Union busting in the present day manifests in mandatory anti-union propaganda meetings[6][7][8] [9]


No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.
— Article 12, Universal Declaration of Human Rights

As technology advances, along with the security state expansion, surveillance has creeped into the workplace in developed countries.[10] The methods used vary from face scanning, microshipping, listening devices and data mining allowing bosses to track every move of their staff.[11][12]

All this surveillance increases inequality in the already unequal relationship between workers and bosses by creating algorithms that make the decisions of hiring, firing and other management for them.[13] Amazon-affiliated drivers have reported feeling pressured and leading them to speeding and urinating in bottles,[14] and the geolocation tags that nurses in Florida are forced to wear has diminished their ability to use discretion with their patients.[15][16]

The coronavirus pandemic has given momentum to expand the amount of surveillance.[17][18][19]

Certain companies, like Microsoft, have also provided technological aid to police surveillance[20]

In January 2016, the European Human Rights Court ruled that it's unreasonable for employers to monitor their employees computers. [21] In 2017, a German court ruled that, while computer monitoring is reasonable, keylogging is a violation of privacy.[22] In the United States, there are very little regulation to prevent employers from spying and collect data off their employees. Existing laws meant to protect digital privacy exist such as the Electronic Communications Privacy ActWikipedia and the Stored Communications Act,Wikipedia which protect against the interception of in-transit e-mails or their disclosure, contain broad "business exceptions", even outside the workplace.[23]

Child labour[edit]

See the main article on this topic: Child labour

While developed countries banned child labour, most corporations continue this vile practise by outsourcing to poor countries. Major industries that benefit from child labor includes confectionery, tobacco, fashion and the technology sectors[24] which occurs because corporate engage in wilful ignorance of unethical labor practices.[25]

Slavery and indentured servitude[edit]

See the main article on this topic: Slavery
No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms..
— Article 4, Universal Declaration of Human Rights

The De Beers Group engages in slavery, as well child labor, exploiting the working classes of African countries to mine diamonds.[26] The company uses prisoner labor since 1885[27]

Other companies include confectionery manufacturers Mars, IncorporatedWikipedia, Nestlé and Hershey which use child slavery labour in Africa. Mars promised since 2000 that it would eradicate slave-source cocoa, but had not reached that "goal" by 2021, and alongside Nestlé and Hershey are facing lawsuits from former child slaves.[28] While also using slave labour from Thailand[29] Nestlé used the argument that requiring the company to report the use of slave labor could cost customers.[30] The fashion industry has also used the forced labour of Uighur people, currently targets of a campaign of cultural genocide by the Chinese government.[31]

Ben and Jerry's, an ice cream company with excellent PR, also engages in labor exploitation of Mexican migrants in Vermont.[32] This exploitation of immigrant farmworkers has been condemned as a form of slavery by human rights groups.[33]

The United States prison system also engages in slavery, due to a "loophole" in the Thirteenth Amendment that allows the government to enslave criminals.[34] Many companies take advantage of this including McDonalds, Sprint, Verizon, Victoria's Street, American Airlines and even PR-friendly Starbucks through a contractor, using prisoners to package their products at low cost.[35]

Another benificiary of prison labor is the US military, especially the US Army, through the Civilian Inmate Labor Program.Wikipedia[36] In 2013, the US Army used prison labor to obtain $100 million worth of military uniforms.[37] Even during the coronavirus pandemic, private prisons still turn a profit due to slave labor.[38]

Historically companies have tried to entrap their workers by building a company townWikipedia in which all stores and housing are owned by the company of which the most famous is Pullman, created in the 1880s in the Chicago city limits. The town survived until the panic of 1883 in which financial woes forced the company to lay off half of its work force and cut wages, without reducing rent or the price of goods at its shops.[39] Some of these company towns, such as Steinway village, New York, were built to weaken the labor movement[40] and exert social control; they still continue to operate today, especially in the South.[41] Facebook and Amazon have sought to also build their own company towns in recent years.[42]

The use of slavery for corporate profit dates to the very first corporation ever chartered, the Dutch East India Company, that set up slave plantations in what is now South Africa and the eponymous East Indies, now the Philippines and Indonesia. The company made a policy of transporting slaves from where they were enslaved to elsewhere in order to discourage escapes back into the local population.

Sweatshops and exploitation[edit]

No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
— Article 5, Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Sweatshops are factories where workers are employed at very low wages under horrible conditions that are hazardous to their very health.

Bangladesh is the country with the largest mortality rate of sweatshops incidents and other workplace-related injuries due to lack of regulations.[43] In fact, Bangladesh's sweatshops are so unregulated that its workers live in the factories themselves which are often subject to fires due to poor electrical wiring and lack of emergency exits or fire extinguishers.[44] In early 2012, a fire started at 5:22 am local time in an illegal factory belonging to Tazreen Fashions in Bangladesh killing 112 workers. The workers slept in the third floor of the factory, and were trapped when the fire spread to the upper floors unable to reach the safety of the rooftop.[45] In April 2012, a building housing five factories in Rana Plaza collapsed killing 1,132 workers and injuring 2,500. Despite the magnitude of these deaths, very little compensation under Bangladesh's labour code was paid except for some financial compensation paid voluntarily.[46]

Another country where sweatshops are common is the People's Republic of China where a large, highly-skilled labor force works at low cost and makes it attractive for high-tech manufacturing.[47] In 2010 various workers at Chinese factories manufacturing cellphones and computers committed suicide, drawing attention in Western countries[48]. Foxconn's reaction varied from asking its workers to sign an anti-suicide pledge[49] to install nets to catch suicidal workers that jump off the rooftop.[50][51]

Some people have defended sweatshops[52] or claimed that banning them will hurt the poor.[53]

This phenomenon has also started to manifesting in the United States and the United Kingdom with the most notable and infamous example being Jeff Bezos' online retail Amazon which has unsafe working conditions.[54] Workers have to skip bathroom breaks to keep their jobs,[55] employees having to work on their feet for twelve hours or more,[56] with some[57] accusing the company of treating its workers as robots.[58]

This situation escalated further with the coronavirus pandemic, and Amazon refusing to pay sick leave,[59] implementing an temporary[60] hazard pay of a groundbreakingWikipedia amount of two dollars per hour, with unsafe working conditions fuelling infections amongst the workforce.[61]

Other areas of exploitation includes Rockstar Games forcing its employees to work a 100 hours per week,[62] which it later tried to defuse[63] as well exploitation at Disneyland with employees facing homelessness[64] and not earning enough to meet basic living expenses.[65][66]

In the sinosphere there's a strong undercurrent of labor exploitation and overwork, manifesting in phenomenon like karoshiWikipedia in Japan, gwarosa in South Korea and the 996 working hour systemWikipedia in mainland China. South Koreans work the most amongst OECD members[67][68] Though in Japan it seems that younger generations are pushing against this guilt-based overworking.[69]

Wage theft and lack of breaks[edit]

(2) Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work. (3) Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.
— Article 23, Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Wage theft is a practise which includes not paying overtime work, misclassifying workers as "independent contractors" or refusing to pay benefits. According to a study by the Economic Policy Institute employers have stolen $15 billion a year from workers by paying less than the minimum wage.[70] Companies that engage in wage theft includes Jimmy Johns (sandwich chain), FedEx (delivery service), Intuit (accounting and finance software), the Walt Disney Company and subsidiaries like Pixar and Lucasfilm, Google, Apple, Adobe, Intel (technology), Walmart and McDonalds(retail).[71]

Everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay.
— Article 24, Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Various companies have also sought to reduce bathroom breaks. In 2014, the WaterSaver Faucet Company was sued by trying to monitor the bathroom use by the staff.[72] Pregnant workers also suffer from using the bathroom too much[73] and can even be fired for using too many bathroom breaks.[74] According to a report, poultry workers are denied bathroom breaks and are forced to wear diapers.[75]

Specific Corporations[edit]

It's rather difficult to find a mega corporation that doesn't engage in some sort of abuse.

United Fruit Company[edit]

The United Fruit CompanyWikipedia was a company that trade in tropical fruits, primarily banana, and its shenanigans created the term "banana republic".[76]

Even in modern days, the Company's crimes are denied by Latino wingnuts as a "communist conspiracy". [77]


See the main article on this topic: Nestlé
The one opinion, which I think is extreme, is represented by the NGOs, who bang on about declaring water a public right. That means that as a human being you should have a right to water. That’s an extreme solution. The other view says that water is a foodstuff like any other, and like any other foodstuff it should have a market value.
—Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, Nestlé CEO, in the 2005 documentary We Feed The World.[78]

You know those evil corporate executives in dystopian movies who hold the world's water supply hostage? Meet their real life incarnation.[79] Stealing water during a drought is not their only crime, though. They're also responsible for stunting the growth of infants in developing nations by misleading parents about their baby formula,[80] using child slavery to make their chocolate,[81][82] and being completely unapologetic about any of it.

Not every rumor about Nestlé's wrongdoings is true, however. They were widely blamed for the 2008 Chinese milk scandalWikipedia in which milk products, including infant formula, were tainted with melamine and killed at least 6 babies; however, Nestlé was not among the companies implicated within China, and none of its milk products manufactured there were intended for sale within China. Only its Taiwanese exports had detectable levels of melamine, and these levels were so low as not to pose a health risk -- and none of these products were baby formula.[83]


  1. History of Pinkertons (and some whining)
  2. America's most insiduous union buster is its own government
  3. Workers accuse food industry of using pandemic to halt union organizing
  4. Workers fired because they tried to start a union (warning:paywall)
  5. Google fires four workers active in labor organizing(warning:paywall)
  6. This is what it's like to sit through an anti-union meeting at work
  7. Target's cheesy anti-union propaganda gets a modern makeover
  8. Why Target's anti-union video is no joke
  9. Seattle Uber drivers subjected to mandatory anti-union propaganda
  10. Aspioneer: Workplace surveillance is becoming the norm, dated January 27, 2020
  11. Business Insider:The methods bosses are using to monitor staff at work , dated to September 24, 2019
  12. The GuardianBig Brother isn't just watching: workplace surveillance can track your every move, dated to November 6, 2017
  13. The Nation: The inequalities of workplace surveillance, dated June 3, 2019
  14. BusinessInsider: Amazon delivery drivers say they feel pressured, dated to September 12, 2018
  15. How surveillance and capitalism is shaping workers' future without their knowledge
  16. Florida hospital tracks nurses footsteps and work patterns
  17. Slate:The workplace-surveillance technology boom, dated, May 12, 2020
  18. Companies consider workplace surveillance measure amid coronavirus pandemic
  19. Apple and Google team up to contact trace covi-19
  20. The Microsoft police state
  21. barbulescu-v-romania and workplace privacy
  22. Companies cannot use keyloggers to spy on employees, says German court
  23. What are the US laws regarding employee monitoring
  24. EPI: Ten Companies that still use child labor, dated to 27 February 2019
  25. Harvard Business Review:Why Companies are blind to Child Labor, dated to January 28, 2016
  26. Human Rights Watch:Human rights in the diamond trade, dated February 8, 2018
  27. Diamond slavery, dated April 29, 2019
  28. Mars, Nestlé and Hershey to face child slavery lawsuit in US
  29. Nestlé admits using Thai slave labour while fighting a lawsuit, dated February 1, 2016
  30. Nestlé says slavery report requirements could cost customers, dated August 19, 2018
  31. Human rights groups accuse the fashion industry of using Uighur slave labor, dated July 23, 2020
  32. CounterPunch:Migrant Injustice: Ben and Jerry's Farmworker exploitation, dated to August 13, 2018
  33. Southern Poverty Law Center:Close to slavery
  34. How prison labor is the new American slavery, dated to June 13, 2016
  35. Big Business that benefit from prison labor
  36. The Pentagon and slave labor in US prisons
  37. Military turns to prison labor for $100 million uniforms, date to December 24, 2013
  38. Cheap labor means prisons still turn a profit during a pandemic, dated May 8, 2020
  39. Utopia derailed: Pullman, dated to February 2009
  40. Five famous company towns
  41. Company towns are still with us
  42. Facebook and Amazon are building their own company towns
  43. Bangladesh is burning and sweatshops are the fuel
  44. Inside the horrific Bangladesh's sweatshops
  45. Grief in Delhi after factory deaths
  46. The Rana Plaza and its aftermath
  47. Life and death in Apple's forbidden factory
  48. Worker suicide sparks inquiries, warning source is paywalled
  49. Foxconn asks workers to sign anti-suicide pledge
  50. Foxconn installs antijumping nets
  51. A million workers and 17 suicides at Foxconn factory
  52. Everything we knew about sweatshops was wrong
  53. Banning sweatshops will only hurt the poor
  54. Amazon worker condemns unsafe, grueling working conditions
  55. Amazon warehouse workers forced to skip bathroom breaks, report finds
  56. Inside the hellish day of an Amazon warehouse employee
  57. Amazon treats workers like robots, ex-employee says, warning paywalled
  58. Amazon workers are not robots
  59. Amazon say California's sick leave doesn't apply to warehouses
  60. Amazon cuts $2 hazard pay
  61. "Culture of workplace fear" fuel Covid-19 infections at Amazon warehouses
  62. Employees at RockStar speak out about the 100 hours week
  63. Rockstar tries to defuse controversial work hours statements
  64. Down and out in Disneyland: study finds Disneyland employees at risk of homelessness and poverty
  65. Three quarters of Disneyland workers can't afford basic living expenses
  66. Some Disneyland employees struggling to pay for food, shelter according to survey
  67. VagabondJourney:South Korean work hours longest in OECD, November 15, 2011
  68. KoreaTimes: South Koreans being overworked to death
  69. How the Japanese are dealing with overworking Feburary, 2017
  70. Economic Policy Institute:Employers steal billions from workers in wages, May 10, 2017
  71. CheatSheet:11 Companies accused of wage theft, May 12, 2015
  72. Company limits worker bathroom use to 6 minutes a day, Union claims
  73. LibertyLaw: Pregnant woman fire for taking too many bathroom breaks, December 22, 2014
  74. Cnet:Amazon fired these 7 pregnant workers. Then came the lawsuits.,May 6, 2019
  75. NBCNews:Poultry workers denied bathroom breaks, wear diapers: Oxfram Report, May 12, 2016
  76. Rotten Fruit
  77. One of the worst massacres in Colombia's history is a communist myth according to opposition Senator
  78. Right from the horse's mouth.
  79. Why Nestle is one of the most hated companies in the world
  82. The Dark Side Of Chocolate
  83. Melamine found in Nestle milk products: minister, 2-October-2008