Georgia: Abandon law on registration of “foreign agents”.

(Tbilisi, April 12, 2024) – The Georgian government should permanently withdraw its plans to reintroduce so-called “foreign agent” legislation, Human Rights Watch and five labor rights organizations and unions said in a statement released today. The bill requires foreign-funded non-governmental organizations, media outlets and trade unions to register as “agents of foreign influence”.

The following is the statement:

The Georgia Fair Labor Platform condemns the administration's plans to reintroduce its so-called “foreign agents” legislation, which would require foreign-funded NGOs and media outlets to register as “agents of foreign influence.”

Many have already argued that the bill is a transparent attempt to control, stigmatize and limit the influence of independent media Civil society. We are convinced that this would also cause serious damage to workers' rights. Trade unions are considered NGOs under Georgia law and would therefore be affected by the bill if they receive more than 20% of their funding from foreign sources.

The fact that only certain types of organizations are singled out in the law – and not, for example, companies or NGOs that receive government funding – is a clear and calculated tactic by the government. Their goal is not transparency; It's about attacking our fundamental rights and silencing critical organizations that speak out against abuses and injustice.

The government's goals clearly include dismantling independent unions, which have been instrumental in raising alarm about Georgia's abysmal wages, poor workplace safety, union busting and much more. Unions enable workers to combat unfair labor practices, promote the democratization of the workplace, and elevate workers' voices in an environment completely dominated by the power of big business and the state. The Foreign Agents Act threatens this.

Unions generally receive most of their funding from membership dues, but some also accept money from foreign donors to conduct research, provide legal services, attend conferences, and more. Funds not available from other sources are used for the interests of workers and independent unions remain accountable to their members.

The new bill threatens not only unions, but also NGOs that provide legal services to workers and help them fight labor rights violations in court or bring them before labor inspectorates. Legal services are expensive and for many, pro bono legal services are the only option. Foreign donors funding such services fill a gap that both the government and domestic donors have proven unable or unwilling to fill.

We also believe the proposed legislation would decimate small, independent media companies that workers rely on to raise awareness of labor rights violations. The Georgian mainstream media usually ignores the struggles of victims of labor rights violations. Without the support of alternative media, our problems would become even more invisible and limit our ability to build public support during strikes, protests and other labor disputes.

Finally, the draft law raises serious concerns about Georgia's prospects of joining the European Union, as the EU itself noted. This is problematic for workers' rights, as EU labor protections are stricter than Georgian law in almost every area, from the minimum wage to overtime regulations to social security. Georgia would need to adopt these protections prior to EU membership, meaning that EU accession would have an overall positive impact on labor rights. Any move that jeopardizes this process would be bad for workers.

We reiterate our condemnation of the draft Foreign Agents Law. Its passage would deprive Georgians of essential mechanisms to protect their labor rights, stigmatize many organizations in the labor movement and ultimately harm workers. We call on the government to permanently stop its attempts to pass this bill or similar laws.

This statement is supported by the following members of the Fair Labor Platform:

  • Center for Social Justice
  • Union for Science, Education and Culture
  • guild
  • Civil Society Foundation
  • Georgian Young Lawyers' Association (GYLA)
  • Human Rights Watch