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New ILO Freedom of Association Report Slams Cambodia, the Philippines, and South Korea

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ILO’s Committee on Freedom of Association issued its latest report criticising Cambodia, the Philippines and South Korea, among many others around the world, for their poor performance in the area of labour rights. As developing countries increase investment and grow economically, they must uphold respect for human rights, including labour rights.
ILO’s Committee on Freedom of Association issued its latest report criticising three Asian countries, among many others around the world, for suppressing freedom of association. Cambodia, the Philippines and South Korea were all condemned for their poor performance in the area of labour rights. The freedom to join organisations of one’s choosing is, according to the ILO, an “integral part of a free and open society.” The ILO Committee reviews freedom of association complaints “whether or not a member State has ratified the relevant conventions.”1 In each of the above countries, there are unresolved cases involving the deaths of union or labour activists as well as a myriad of other rights violations. The Committee specifically expressed strong concern for Cambodia and the Philippines because of the “extreme seriousness and urgency” of their cases.2 Eight cases were brought against Republic of Korea, some of them from as long ago as 1996.


In Cambodia, the Committee deplored the unsolved murders of three trade union leaders, all of which lack impartial, transparent and effective investigations and redress. One of the cases has been investigated but the conclusions were not satisfactory to the ILO. The country is also continuing “repression of trade unionists” and was urged by the Committee to reopen the investigation into one of the murders and to institute judicial inquiries into the other two.3

Cambodia has ratified the Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise
Convention (No. 87), and the Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining
Convention (No. 98). It has not, however, ratified the Workers’ Representatives Convention (No. 135)4, which the ILO urges it to do, a recommendation with which FORUM-ASIA strongly agrees.

The Philippines:

The Philippines has been plagued by infamous extra judicial killings that threaten to undermine the country’s reputation as a functioning democracy. The current ILO concern reaffirms the existence of severe and widespread problems, some of which were highlighted in the recent elections that resulted in many deaths. The Committee expressed disappointment over the continuous harassment of labour rights participants and leaders, and “deplored the gravity of the allegations made”, which include “killings, grave threats, continuous harassment and intimidation and other forms of violence inflicted on leaders, members, organisers, union supporters…”5 International investors, bi-lateral trade negotiators and other government officials from outside the country should take note of the situation and hesitate before becoming involved or continuing involvement.

Republic of Korea:

As one of the most developed countries in our region, South Korea has a reputation to uphold. In areas related to economic development it is on par with developed countries, and as a country that has so much foreign investment it must take note of the ILO’s criticism. It is somewhat surprising given the country’s development that the ILO had to investigate eight cases in South Korea, one of which includes the mysterious deaths of Kim Taehwan, head of the FKTU Chungju regional chapter, and Ha Jeung Koon, member of the KFCITU Pohang union. There were allegations that union members were beaten up, harassed, arrested, and that leaders were forced to resign, all symptoms of a dysfunctional labour rights atmosphere in Korea.6

The lack of respect for fundamental labour rights is alarming in and of itself, but also because it prevents people from enjoying other rights, like the economic rights gained from collective bargaining, or even worse, the right to life. Freedom of association also means if someone joins a trade union and then is harmed as result of this affiliation, the government has a responsibility to follow-up and investigate the crime so that there can be accountability. This situation becomes more complicated if the government is complicit in the crime. The ILO is doing its best to draw attention to the worst situations, including those that have not improved over time, and this year Asia fell far short of what it is capable of – our region should look at South Korea, the Philippines and Cambodia as lessons. As developing countries increase investment and grow economically, they must uphold respect for human rights, including labour rights.


ILO Committee on Freedom of Associate: 346th report

Press release:

ILO Committee on Freedom of Associate: 346th report