UNITED NATIONS FORUM ON MINORITY ISSUES:
Minorities and Effective Participation in Economic Life
HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL
Forum on Minority Issues
Room XX Palais des Nations
Presentation: “Racial inequalities, labour rights, and decent work”
Dr. Adelle Blackett, Associate Professor & William Dawson Scholar, Faculty of Law, McGill
14 December 2010
Thank you very much for the opportunity to address this Forum.
Early this decade, a group of five racialized minority agricultural workers brought a claim of racial
discrimination to a domestic human rights tribunal. The racial discrimination that the tribunal found to
have been amply established was one of the worst cases of blatant humiliation through outright
segregation – the racialized workers were not allowed to use the same kitchen and bathroom facilities as
the workers of the majority culture; instead, they had to eat and clean up in an outhouse-like facility that
was kept in the most insalubrious state. They were subjected to racial slurs and similar humiliations.
The tribunal had no difficulty finding that there was workplace discrimination.
However, the human rights tribunal completely missed the more endemic form of discrimination – the
fact that the multi-million dollar so-called family run farm only hired minorities to do the hard manual
labour, and hired them on terribly precarious daily contracts, for pay below the statutory minimum for
other forms of employment, and hired persons from the white majority culture for mechanized jobs, and
for office jobs. It was as if that kind of occupational segmentation on the basis of race was so much a
part of the “common sense” of racial discrimination that it simply was not seen...
The discrimination was decidedly “new economy” – the sub-standard working conditions were meant to
be competitive with conditions presumed to prevail in the global South, so that the agricultural product
could be sold in the North at a price competitive with the global South (the South in the North). The
asymmetrical global production and trade was embodied in these racialized workers, who contrary to
popular belief were NOT temporary migrants, but permanent residents and in some cases, political