Workplace Dignity and Worker Rights

Human rights don’t end at the workplace door. We advance the rights and dignity of workers through a multi-pronged approach, including offering the business community tools to center dignity in their workplace practices, and advocating to strengthen workers rights—especially for those excluded from protections.

The human rights imperative is clear. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights affirms that we are all “born free and equal in dignity” and that all workers have the right to:

  • “just and favorable conditions of work,” and
  • remuneration that allows them and their families to live dignified lives

And while all workers’ rights and dignity can be violated, some workers are at heightened risk, often workers of color. While not an exhaustive list, this includes workers legally excluded from key protections (such as farmworkers, workers in the informal sector, tipped workers, domestic workers, gig workers, contract workers, garment workers,  and disabled workers), workers who face heightened discrimination or risk of exploitation in the workplace (such as marginalized and underrepresented workers due to race, gender, occupational segregation, migration status,  amongst others), and workers who face the public (such as education workers, retail and service workers, and healthcare workers).

We know well the long-term viability of companies is inextricably tied to the welfare of all stakeholders. With that in mind, our efforts have included advocacy for workers to be compensated with livable wages. Together with our One Fair Wage coalition of partners, we signed an investor letter addressed to Denny’s CEO John Miller urging the company to pull out of the National Restaurant Association, which has been lobbying against raising the federal minimum wage. The coalition’s shareholder advocacy—including recent roundtables with dozens of investors—not only demonstrates to investors that they can leverage their capital to benefit workers on the frontline of our society, but that doing so can also improve their bottom line.

Alongside our advocacy and mobilization, we offer resources to organizations and their leaders.

For organizations, our resource platform side-steps compliance-driven efforts and sloganeering, and instead tackles the real issues through day-to-day leadership and structural interventions that affect the entire work experience—from recruiting, communications, and data transparency to compensation, benefits, and beyond. Just as workplaces and the issues they grapple with continue to evolve, we find new and innovative ways to center the dignity of workers as crucial stakeholders. The result is workers who thrive and workplaces that are more engaging, more productive, and ultimately more successful.

JUST Capital—having conducted surveys in partnership with The Harris Poll—reports that the American public overwhelmingly believes that the pandemic has prompted the need for a “reset,” and a move to stakeholder-driven capitalism. As the debate between stakeholder capitalism and shareholder primacy carries on, JUST Capital’s analysis provides clear evidence that “your business is only as good as your workforce.

As The Wall Street Journal has reported, Gallup found that strong, dignity-centering leaders retain employees, reducing rehire costs. Gallup also found that it took a pay raise of more than 20% to hire most employees away from a leader who engaged them, and a Catalyst survey found that 57% of white women and 62% of women of color who feel their company respects and values their life circumstances have either never or rarely thought of leaving.

Our Workplace Dignity survey with Willis Towers Watson made clear though that there is a deep perception gap between what employees report they are experiencing and what their employers think their workplace and its culture are delivering. Likewise, while a vast majority of leaders think they’re caring and employees are thriving, a 2022 Deloitte survey found that nearly half their people disagree. And while ninety-five percent of senior leaders in our survey said that a culture of dignity is an important driver of employee well-being, few leaders receive guidance on driving dignity at work

At the same time, the Edelman Trust Barometer has consistently found that people trust their employer to do what’s right, even above governments, media, and NGOs. Employers therefore have a special opportunity to leverage that reservoir of trust to close the gap by centering workplace dignity and ensuring that organizational values and social responsibility commitments resonate internally with employees as key stakeholders.

“Responsible leaders must take specific actions to close the perception gap between what their employees report they are experiencing and what employers think their workplace cultures are delivering.”

Kerry Kennedy

Organizational policies and processes shape workplace dignity in ways that affect everyone. We offer structural strategies designed to advance dignity, giving organizations the opportunity to prove that employees truly are their most prized asset.

Managers play a central role in honoring dignity at work. They set the workplace tone and directly affect employee engagement, motivation and ability to deliver on goals. And employees take their cues from the behavior leaders model. We offer practical ways for leaders to advance dignity day-to-day.