Hundreds of Millions of Human Workers Treated Worse than Robots

Human Wrongs Watch

Teenage girls harvest tomatoes on a farm in the state of Sinaloa, in northern Mexico. Credit: Courtesy of Instituto Sinaloense para la Educación de los Adultos (Sinaloa Institute for Adult Education)

For example, of all domestic workers worldwide -overwhelmingly women- up to 94% lack access to the full range of protections, covering medical care, sickness, unemployment, old age, employment injury, family, maternity, invalidity and survivors’ benefits.

This means that only 6% of their total number –estimated at over 75 million worldwide– have access to comprehensive social protection.

In its mid-June 2022 report: Making the right to social security a reality for domestic workers, the International Labour Organization (ILO) also informs that about half of all domestic workers have no coverage at all, with the remaining half legally covered by at least one benefit.

The extension of effective coverage has lagged significantly behind that of legal coverage ILO explains. Only one-in-five domestic workers are actually covered in practice because the vast majority are employed informally.

Despite their vital contribution to society, supporting households with their most personal and care needs, most of the world’s 75,6 million domestic workers face multiple barriers to enjoying legal coverage and effective access to social security, the report explains.

“They are often excluded from national social security legislation.”

More than 60% of the world’s adult labour force –or about 2 billion workers– work in the informal economy. They are not recognised, registered, regulated or protected under labour legislation and social protection. The consequences can be severe, for individuals, families as well as economies

Women, three-quarters of all

As 76.2% of domestic workers (57.7 million people) are women, such social protection gaps leave them particularly vulnerable.

Most of them do not have access to social insurance schemes benefits related to unemployment or employment injury, also according to the world’s main labour body.

No protection in the Americas, Arab region, Asia, Africa

The report also highlights major differences between regions.

  • In Europe and Central Asia, 57.3% of domestic workers are legally covered for all benefits.

  • A little more than 10% of domestic workers are legally covered for all benefits in the Americas;

  • Almost none are fully covered in the Arab States, Asia and the Pacific and Africa ‒ regions that include countries where significant numbers of domestic workers are employed.

  • The COVID-19 pandemic has made “glaringly apparent” the social protection coverage gaps experienced by domestic workers. They were among the worst hit during the pandemic, with many losing their jobs and livelihoods.

  • Many of those who kept their jobs were often exposed to the disease without sufficient protective equipment. However, domestic workers could rarely rely on adequate health protection, sickness or unemployment benefits, further exposing their vulnerabilities.

Asia is the largest garment manufacturer in the world. Despite increase in real wages for most workers, their working conditions have remained poor and characterised by widespread informality and vulnerability. Credit: Obaidul Arif/IPS

No decent work in the ‘garment factory’

Tragically, the unprotected tens of millions of domestic workers are not the only case of human rights abuse.

For example, Asia remains the ‘garment factory of the world,’ yet the sector faces an array of challenges many of which have been accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a 24 June new ILO report: Employment, wages and productivity in the Asian garment sector: Taking stock of recent trends.

The study highlights how the industry still accounts for 55% of global textiles and clothing exports and employs some 60 million workers.

The situation has been exacerbated by the impact of COVID-19.

Exposed to dangerous biological risks

A biological hazard as any micro-organism, cell or other organic material that may be of plant, animal, or human origin, including any which have been genetically modified, and which can cause harm to human health, explains the International Labour Organzation.

This may include, but is not limited to, bacteria, viruses, parasites, fungi, prions, DNA materials, bodily fluids, and other microorganisms and their associated allergens and toxins.

Both infectious and non-infectious biological hazards can be a significant health threat in numerous sectors and workplaces worldwide.


“For example, communicable diseases alone are estimated to have caused 310,000 work-related deaths worldwide in 2021, 120,000 of which were due to COVID-19.”

To deal with this alarming issue, experts from governments and employers’ and workers’ organisations meeting at the International Labour Organisation (Geneva, 20 to 24 June) adopted guidelines for handling biological hazards in the working environment.

They provide specific advice, aligned with international labour standards, on preventing and controlling work-related injuries, diseases, and deaths related to exposure to biological hazards in the working environment.

“This includes questions related to the responsibilities and rights of competent authorities, employers, occupational health services and workers, workplace risk management, workers’ health surveillance, and preparedness and response to emergencies.”

Social protection for rural workers “remains a dream”

Social protection for rural workers “remains a dream”, according to a report launched in Geneva on 7 July 2022 by the Bureau for Workers’ Activities (ACTRAV), part of the UN’s International Labour Organization.

This is of particular concern for those in precarious work conditions, including informal, casual, temporary and subcontracted workers and day labourers who form the large majority of workers on agricultural plantations, laid out in the study: Decent work deficits among rural workers.

Based on 16 case studies covering 15 countries in Africa, Asia, Central Asia, Europe and Latin America, the report shows that deficits in working conditions are found in every sector and in relation to every substantive element covered by the framework of the ILO’s Decent Work Indicators.

It reveals that “child and forced labour as well as debt bondage remain a reality for many worldwide.”

Up to 95% of children engaged in hazardous work are employed in agriculture, notably in the cocoa, palm oil and tobacco sectors. And forced labour is linked to the many ways workers are dependent on employers.

80% of all working poor, in rural areas

Meanwhile, about 80% of the world’s poor live in rural areas, many of whom face severe decent-work deficits, including inadequate safety, low pay, lack of stability and security, and excessive working hours – with women and young workers hit the hardest.

And women are disproportionately represented in the most precarious positions; having to accept low-paying, low-skilled jobs, suffering huge gender pay gaps, and are more prone to workplace harassment and abuse compared to male workers, the report reveals.

Exposed to chemicals

The report also describes chemical exposure as posing serious health and other risks to agricultural workers, particularly to children and pregnant and lactating women.

“Most rural workers operate in the informal economy, which includes a large proportion of women working as unpaid care workers who have no access to maternity leave and other essential protections.”

Add to all the above that over 60% of world workers are not recognised, not registered, not protected.

In fact, the UN reports that more than 60% of the world’s adult labour force –or about 2 billion workers– work in the informal economy. “They are not recognised, registered, regulated or protected under labour legislation and social protection. The consequences can be severe, for individuals, families as well as economies.”

Maybe because they are just humans?


2022 Human Wrongs Watch

2 Responses to “Hundreds of Millions of Human Workers Treated Worse than Robots”

  1. Through the countless online comments, one sees how often migrants (and even refugees) are callously criticized with presumptions they’ll become permanent burdens on their new host/home nation. But then that no longer matters when the migrants die in their attempt at achieving sanctuary, be it ‘economic’ or actual life-saving refuge.

    Often overlooked by their critics is that many migrants are leaving global-warming-related chronic crop failures in the southern hemisphere widely believed to be related to the northern hemisphere’s chronic fossil-fuel burning, beginning with the Industrial Revolution. While some global refugee situations may not be climate-change related, many land- and water-based border-guard confrontations increasingly in the news are nonetheless scary — and even unbecoming of Western self-professed Christian nations. (Jesus must be spinning!)

    Tragically, it’s as though some people, however precious their souls, can be consciously/subconsciously perceived and treated by a large swath of an otherwise free, democratic and relatively civilized society as though those people are somehow disposable and, by extension, their suffering is somehow less worthy of external concern. Perhaps it’s something similar to how human smugglers perceive their cargo when choosing that most immoral line of business.

    Albeit perhaps on a subconscious level, there also is an inhumane devaluation by external-nation [usually of the Western world] attitudes toward the daily civilian lives lost in devastatingly long-drawn-out war zones and famine-stricken nations: the worth of such life will be measured by its overabundance and/or the protracted conditions under which it suffers. Often enough, those people will eventually receive meagre column inches on the back page of the First World’s daily news.



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