World Day for Decent Work is commemorated each year by millions of working people around the world. Today on farms and in factories – in cities and small villages – people who work hard every day mobilize for good jobs, basic rights, and social protection in their societies. Decent work gives dignity to people’s lives, and it underpins more broadly shared prosperity in the global economy. As Special Representative for International Labor Affairs at the U.S. Department of State, I work to strengthen respect for worker rights, improve workplace conditions, contribute to sustainable livelihoods, and engage with workers and their organizations across the world.
This week in the Dominican Republic at the Ministerial meeting of the Pathways for Prosperity program, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton discussed the importance of global economic growth, but noted: “I don’t want us ever to forget that growth is not the end in and of itself. It is to lift millions of people, to improve their lives, to give their children better futures…My question is: Will that growth include more and more people? Will that prosperity reach down into the middle class and the poor? Will more families realize their own dreams?”
In that spirit, on this World Day for Decent Work, we are convening the first meeting of the Labor Working Group of Secretary Clinton’s Strategic Dialogue with Civil Society. The working group consists of leaders from worker organizations, NGOs, the International Labor Organization, and some of the world’s leading experts on the crucial issues facing workers across the world. Over the next year, the group will offer policy recommendations for better incorporating the concerns of working people in U.S. foreign policy, including advice on promoting equality of opportunity and economic inclusion for young people, women, vulnerable workers, migrants, and the hundreds of millions of people working in the informal economy in countries across the world.
This year’s World Day of Decent Work comes as millions of workers worldwide continue to face enormous challenges of finding employment and decent work. We hope that our discussions with civil society and our broader initiatives to promote labor diplomacy and worker rights can make substantive contributions to improving the lives of working families everywhere.
DRL’s program in Algeria addresses the issue of in-country “disappearances.” The program implementer supports efforts of civil society organizations in studying, advocating, and reporting on credible alternatives for an inclusive, democratic and legitimate national reconciliation process.
Elections and Political Process Development Programs:
Two DRL elections and political process strengthening programs provide training to any interested Egyptian groups and coalitions including political parties in campaign management, media relations, and platform development. The projects also train women and youth how to engage effectively in the political process by learning about issue advocacy and how to vote. The programs also provide technical assistance to Egyptian poll observers and civil society groups to strengthen the integrity of the electoral process and make sure all rules and regulations are followed. Participants in these programs are self-selected, and DRL does not fund direct support to political parties.
One DRL labor program helps to build the capacity of independent worker organizations. This project will also work to advocate for workers’ rights and promote freedom of expression and access to information about independent labor and trade unions. Another DRL labor program supports efforts to enhance freedom of association and improve collective bargaining at the local level. The project will assist in developing a campaign on worker’s rights as well as trainings on effective collective bargaining techniques, dispute resolution, and the enforcement of national legislation.
Independent Journalism and Media Program:
A DRL program works with interested local media outlets and reporters to provide multimedia journalism training, including electronic media. The program features specialized training for female and youth citizen journalists on election day coverage and integrating contributions of other citizen journalists into election reporting.
DRL supports programs in Iran that focus on democracy, human rights, and rule of law.
DRL has a robust Iraq program and is one of the lead bureaus in the promotion of democracy and human rights in-country.
DRL programs focus on democracy and governance, human rights, and women’s issues.
One DRL democracy and governance program seeks to train Iraqi activists who will eventually be able to serve as full-time in-house trainers for political parties and civil society organizations at the regional and local levels. In addition, the program works with the legislative and executive branches to improve governance capacity.
Another DRL program focuses on human rights issues. The program implementer provides specialized research and training intended to expand and deepen the general population’s understanding of the historical context, scope, legal underpinnings, and practical functions of the Human Rights Commission. In addition, the program provides community outreach and assists the National Human Rights Commission to establish popular legitimacy as well as constitutional legitimacy.
A successful DRL program focused on women’s issues trains women in the media and provides media access and outlets for, by and about women. Through the program implementer’s trainings and mentoring, the program seeks to stimulate political dialogue, enhance women’s issues media coverage, and to galvanize support for women’s human rights.
Current DRL programs in Jordan focus on independent media and the economic empowerment of women.
DRL’s partner implementer seeks to improve the reporting skills of broadcast media professionals, develop women’s radio production skills, develop a radio business news program, and provide accountability on issues ranging from human rights to rule of law.
Another DRL program in Jordan enhances the capacity of civil society and strengthens women’s civil society coalitions, especially at the grassroots levels. The program intends to increase mobilization and action on working women’s rights; develop women’s skills as educators and organizers; assist women to develop strategic alliances with local, national, and international NGOs; and increase public awareness and support for working women’s priorities.
The robust DRL programming in Lebanon focuses on such topics as electoral reform, independent media, the rule of law, and civic and political participation targeting youth and women.
One DRL program implementer provides technical assistance to improve the legal framework for elections in Lebanon and to increase the capacity of electoral authorities so that future elections can be managed in a professional manner, according to accepted international standards.
Another DRL partner seeks to stimulate a national dialogue on challenges facing the country, inform decision-makers of citizen priorities, and help political parties and other civil society organizations reach out to the Lebanese public across confessional lines. The development of issue-based policy is critical to supporting sustainable democratic practices and institutions in Lebanon.
In addition, DRL supports a clinical education program aimed at strengthening the rule of law in Lebanon. Young law students will gain public advocacy skills and provide pro bono consultations to communities that lack access to human rights representation.
DRL programming in Morocco supports the rule of law through human rights law education and prison monitoring.
A DRL partner works to open a law clinic focusing on human rights and public interest law on a pilot basis and in partnership with a Moroccan law school. The clinic will include a public education component for advanced students to conduct public legal education and outreach activities at local schools and in the community.
Another DRL initiative enhances the ability of a local partner NGO to process and monitor prisoner complaints, raise awareness of the treatment of prisoners, and conduct advocacy on behalf of prisoner rights.
DRL supports good governance initiatives in Saudi Arabia.
DRL’s partner organization seeks to address the strengthening of legislative projects and political leadership capacity-building; broaden the exposure of Saudi officials to democratic practices; and promote transparency, oversight, and anti-corruption in municipal councils. This program also works to improve the political environment and receptivity for future programs implemented within the Kingdom.
DRL’s Syria programs support democracy, human rights and the rule of law.
In the West Bank and Gaza, DRL supports anti-corruption and conflict resolution programs.
One DRL program provides Palestinian youth an understanding of corruption and how to combat it through transparency, accountability, and integrity.
Another DRL program is designed to build the capacity of Palestinian Early Childhood Development (ECD) teachers and administrators to incorporate age-appropriate peace and conflict resolution curricula into ECD programs operated by NGOs throughout the West Bank and Gaza.
Families across the United States are gathering together to celebrate Labor Day this weekend – a time honored tradition that we’ve set aside for over a century – to remember the contributions of workers.
The cookouts, parades, and end of summer rituals are unique ways that we celebrate this very American holiday. But the recognition of working people – be it in May or September – through a holiday and tradition devoted to no particular gender, individual, battle, group, or saint is also unique. It is a holiday we all share.
It has only been six months since the world witnessed the remarkable transformations taking place in the Middle East. The self-immolation of a Tunisian street vendor, who was concerned about not being able to feed his family, has resonated with workers everywhere. Workers, in countries as different from one another as one could imagine, are speaking up for decent wages, social justice and a political and economic voice in their daily lives. Clearly, dignity at work is a universal aspiration.
And as the financial crisis of the last three years has shown, the stability of global economy still poses enormous challenges. An economic crisis in one country can be felt on factory floors half a world away. Much of the world is still experiencing continuing high employment, lack of jobs for young people, discrimination towards women and growing disenfranchisement among migrant workers and refugees.
As workers take advantage of greater political space and start to speak up for better wages, equality, job stability, and the right to form their own independent organizations – our labor office at the State Department will support the “voice of the street” and work to strengthen respect for labor rights as human rights in our policies and programs.
Secretary Clinton captured this focus perfectly in her speech on Development in the 21st Century when she said
We cannot build a stable, global economy when hundreds of millions of workers and families find themselves on the wrong side of globalization, cut off from markets and out of reach of modern technologies… And we cannot advance democracy and human rights when hunger and poverty threaten to undermine the good governance and rule of law needed to make those rights real.
This is why our efforts to promote labor diplomacy are focused on ensuring that the global economy is working for everyone. This includes advocating for dignity at work and recognizing that honest labor, fairly compensated, gives meaning and structure to people’s lives and enables every family and all children to rise as far as their talents will take them.
Honoring our values – working to end to discrimination, an end to forced and child labor, and recognizing the right of people to organize and bargain in a civil and peaceful way. These are not just labor rights, they are human rights.
Today — to each and every one of you and to your families on labor day, I wish you the best as we work towards a more prosperous and peaceful world.
I want to thank USAID for sponsoring today’s conversation on Business and Human Rights which I believe to be a critical human rights issue in this day and age. I am honored to be on such an esteemed panel and am very pleased to see many familiar and new faces here today. All of you have helped shape this conversation and many have helped governments, including the U.S. government, come to grips with the challenges and opportunities in this field. Business and human rights is especially important in today’s world where non-governmental actors – whether companies, NGOs or armed extremist groups — have increasing power to do good or ill. And often they are operating outside of government control or even influence.
Traditionally, human rights law has focused on governments – the duty of governments to protect the fundamental human rights of their citizens. But this is no longer enough. The global business community has grown in power and influence, and so must its responsibility for protecting human rights.
Today, half of the world’s 100 largest economies are private companies. The other half are the economies of nations. What this means is that when we measure corporate annual revenues and compare them to the gross domestic product of countries, half of the corporations are as large as nations. If Wal-Mart were a nation, its annual revenues this year would rank it roughly 30th in the world – ahead of Malaysia, Belgium, Nigeria and Sweden. And this isn’t a fluke, it’s a pattern. The Fortune 500 companies have continued to grow despite the global recession.
In this emerging global economy many of the rules of the road have yet to be written. This is a moment in time when smart, thoughtful and creative action by governments, NGOs, and companies is urgently needed.
In terms of human rights, there are four broad areas that deserve greater attention:
• First, manufacturing supply chains and their labor practices;
• Second, security and human rights in zones of armed conflict, especially with respect to the extractive industries;
• Third, labor and other human rights issues in the agricultural sector; and
• Fourth, the role of the private sector with respect to free expression on the Internet.
In each of these areas there is an important role for governments to play, often in close collaboration with companies themselves, but also civil society organizations. Now, governments alone cannot answer all of these challenges or regulate in all of these areas. But we also cannot assume that companies, acting alone, will always do the right thing.
The U. S. government is committed to working with the private sector, civil society, and governments as allies and partners to make human rights a reality, especially in those places where governments struggle to impose rule of law and companies face the difficult task of taking principled actions. So we all must be looking for alternative ways to build new global rules of the road.
As we all know, many corporations operate in some of the toughest territories in the world, in places where the discovery of natural wealth can fuel bitter conflict.
It is not easy for a company to take on responsibility for respecting human rights. But especially in places where governments may be too weak or unwilling to enforce the rule of law and protect individuals’ rights, companies often find themselves acting as the first line in promoting best practices for human rights. It is the job of governments to support companies in making the right choices. One way to do this is by facilitating multi-stakeholder dialogues to identify and address problems inherent in a particular sector or region.
The international community has developed many mechanisms to address business and human rights.
I’d like to recognize the longtime contributions of the UN Secretary General’s Special Representative on Human Rights, Transnational Corporations, and Other Business Enterprises, John Ruggie, who has been a conceptual leader on these issues. At the Human Rights Council session that ended in June, Professor Ruggie presented his final report as Special Representative: The Guiding Principles for the Implementation of the UN Protect, Respect, and Remedy Framework organized around three foundational principles:
• First, the state duty to protect against human rights abuses by third parties, including business;
• Second, the corporate responsibility to respect human rights; and
• Third, the need for victims to have access to remedies.
The Guiding Principles were developed and were embraced by all groups following extensive consultation with government, corporate actors, and a wide range of civil society actors. As a result, they offer a common platform and plan of action for the global community in advancing human rights where they intersect with business.
But, translating his vision into action requires a commitment from companies, governments and civil society to cooperate on the hard issues.
As a government, we now must pursue the crucial next phase- implementation – with diligence, creativity and resources to ensure that we reach our ultimate goal: Improving the lives of people around the world. The Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor at the U.S. Department of State is currently exploring how we can support targeted high impact projects to advance John’s work.
We also believe in the potential of multi-stakeholder initiatives as a mechanism to address these tough issues.
It is my experience that companies are much better positioned to address human rights concerns when they work in a multi-stakeholder environment that includes not only other companies, but also civil society, academics, investors, and sometimes governments. This approach is critical because it creates a forum for invested actors to confront evolving human rights challenges, and because it provides a way to demonstrate the value of these processes through an accountability mechanism. Like the Ruggie Framework, these multi-stakeholder initiatives can also fill the void where governments can’t or won’t live up to their duty to protect their citizens.
But for multi-stakeholder initiatives to work, the standards they set must be clear, specific, and backed by a credible monitoring mechanism. The initiatives themselves need sound rules of the road, in the form of a comprehensive governance structure. And they need to be implemented, monitored, verified, and evaluated in a way that is transparent and encourages compliance.
So let me walk you through a few examples of multi-stakeholder initiatives.
The Fair Labor Association is a good example of what can be done. It’s a collaboration between companies, colleges and universities, and civil society organizations, that has been improving working conditions in factories around the world since 1999. The FLA has developed a Workplace Code of Conduct, and created a practical process for monitoring, remediation, and verification and a third-party complaint mechanism. As a result of all of these steps, the FLA has succeeded in strengthening worker protections at hundreds of factories, from Bangladesh to Mexico.
For the past 10 years, the United States and many people in this room have been working together on another initiative, the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights. As you may know, the VPs provides guidance to extractive companies on maintaining the safety and security of their operations in a manner that respects human rights. The VPs are the only human rights guidelines designed specifically for the oil, gas, and mining industries. Because these industries frequently work in areas where central governments are weak and human rights are all too often trampled, this administration is committed to strengthening the VPs to maximize its impact in these tough environments. We are working to create a sound governance structure as well as an external monitoring mechanism, so that it can meet these very real challenges.
And, of course, we continue to work on the urgent crisis over conflict minerals in the Great Lakes region of Africa. As you know, the U.S. Congress has recently passed the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act,
which aims to break the links between the illicit trade in natural resources in the Great Lakes region and the conflict in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. President Obama signed it into law last year. The law requires companies that use tin, tantalum, tungsten or gold in their products to publicly disclose whether any of those minerals originated in the DRC or an adjoining country. If so, the company must provide a report of the measures taken to exercise due diligence on the source and chain of custody of the minerals, including an independent audit to verify conditions of work in the supply chain. While the law is requires companies to report publicly on their procedures, we hope it will eventually lead to a conflict-free supply chain of minerals from the region.
Another area where we are working is in developing a new International Code of Conduct for Private Security Service Providers. 125 members of industry have all signed on to this Code of Conduct which requires them to respect human rights regarding, among other things, the use of force, detention, torture, sexual exploitation, human trafficking, forced labor and discrimination. We fully support this nascent organization, which is doing its due diligence to set up a strong architecture of accountability and transparency by establishing a robust certification procedure and a credible grievance mechanism.
Finally, I want to talk about an issue that is fundamentally important to the intersection of business and human rights: Internet Freedom.
We urge all companies, U.S. and international, to consider the human rights implications of their actions, and the Internet is of course a critical area of concern these days. Secretary Clinton has put Internet freedom on the map as a key diplomatic priority. At its core Internet freedom concerns a set of human rights — the right of freedom of expression, the right to peaceful assembly, the right to freedom of association. We must consider how these rights apply to new technologies and the steps that governments and business need to take to protect and respect human rights and fundamental freedoms.
By now, every government understands the power of ordinary citizens to harness the Internet and social media to organize and express themselves.
Some have embraced these new technologies as a way to connect with and serve their citizens. Others are redoubling their attempts to control them.
We are witnessing the rise of cyber attacks on the computers of independent media, Distributed Denial of Service attacks on the sites of watchdog groups, and other attempts to thwart the work of civil society.
We are seeing the development of more sophisticated tools for cyber-repression, including filtering, surveillance, anti-circumvention, and network-disabling technologies by government security forces in closed societies.
This is one of those hard problems I spoke of earlier. I don’t have all the answers, and neither does the U.S. government. But I do believe that the multi-stakeholder approach is the right way to discuss and address these emerging challenges.
Thank you very much.