Business and Freedom of Association

Freedom of association is a human right that is at the core of ILO values. It is enshrined in the ILO Constitution, the ILO Declaration of Philadelphia and the ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work (1998); and it is proclaimed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The right of workers and employers to form and join organizations of their own choosing is an integral part of a free and open society. Independent employers’ and workers’ organizations provide clear partners for collective bargaining and social dialogue. In many cases, employers’ and workers’ organizations have played a significant role in their countries’ democratic transformation.

However, many challenges remain to ensure that this fundamental human right is respected all over the world. In some countries certain categories of workers are denied the right of association, workers’ and employers’ organizations are illegally suspended or interfered with, and in some extreme cases trade unionists are arrested or killed.

The key ILO standards addressing freedom of association are the Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise Convention, (No. 87) 1948 and the Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining Convention, 1949 (No. 98).

The ILO Committee on Freedom of Association was established to examine complaints by employers’ and worker’s organizations about violations of freedom of association, whether or not the member State concerned has ratified these conventions.

The MNE Declaration refers to the important contribution enterprises can make to the enjoyment of basic human rights, including freedom of association, throughout the world (art 1) and provides more detailed guidance in the section on Industrial Relations (articles 42-48).

Q&As on Freedom of Association

  • Freedom of association: general
  • Non-interference
  • Union security clauses
  • Facilities
  • Legal barriers to respecting freedom of association
  • Government role