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.
The State Department’s Office of International Labor Affairs (ILA) strengthens respect for labor rights and advances workplace democracy in the global economy. ILA initiatives further U.S. foreign policy goals related to human rights, democracy promotion, trade, and sustainable growth. The office, which is part of the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (DRL), also helps to implement the agenda of the Department’s Special Representative for International Labor Affairs.
ILA efforts to promote worker rights focus on internationally recognized labor rights relating to freedom of association, the right to collective bargaining, and the elimination of forced labor, child labor, and discrimination. In carrying out its work, ILA collaborates with NGOs, trade unions, companies, international organizations, and fellow U.S. federal agencies.
ILA helps to coordinate and support the work of Labor Officers and other staff covering labor issues in U.S. missions throughout the world. DRL sponsors an annual Award for Excellence in Labor Diplomacy, a two-week course at the Foreign Service Institute on Labor Officer Skills, and regional conferences. In 2010, ILA conducted training sessions for officers in Cairo, Bangkok, and Miami.
DRL provides millions of dollars in funding each year for projects that advance worker rights, build the capacity of independent unions, improve labor rights in supply chains, and promote dialogue among workers, employers, and governments.
For more information on the Office of International Labor Affairs, please check out their fact sheets below (in .PDF):
U.S. Supports the Drafting of the Ombudsman’s First Report on the Constitutional Justice Observatory
Within the framework of the International Day of Human Rights, the Ombudsman’s Constitutional Justice Observatory launched the report entitled 15 years of Constitutional Jurisprudence. USAID’s Human Rights Program provided gfinancial and technical support for the report which was formally presented in an event held in the Bolivar Room of the Tequendema Hotel. Among those present at the event were Colombian Ombudsman Volmar Perez; USAID’s director for Human Rights in Colombia Jene Thomas; top Colombian officials from the Executive, Legislative and Judicial Branches; as well as academics and representatives from social organizations. USAID’s initiative for this project totalled $90 million Colombian pesos.
The document is a collection of academic works that examine some of the Constitutional Court’s sentences since 2001 and was drafted by a group of officials from the Office of the Ombudsman. USAID helped to strengthen this group by providing the support of an external consultant. The report compiles sentences related to the protection of the rights of children, youth, the elderly, people with disabilities, prisoners, people with a different sexual orientation, people stricken by poverty, ethnic groups, victims of forced displacement and labor unionists. It also includes sentences on basic rights in the criminal process, habeas corpus, habeas data, the right to petition, and the right to political participation as well as collective rights. The report also includes analyses of jurisprudence issued by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, as accepted by the Colombian government.
This first report is a valuable reference tool for judicial operators, public officials, teachers, researchers and academicians, as well as social leaders, human rights’ and victims’ organizations, and the public in general.
Bogota D.C., December 10, 2008
Deputy Secretary Steinberg meets with Preside Uribe and signs Action Plan on Racial and Ethnic Equality
Deputy Secretary James B. Steinberg met today with President Uribe at Ubérrimo Ranch. They had a very productive meeting, during which they discussed the current state of their bilateral relationship and how they envision the relationship developing in the future. Thereafter, Deputy Steinberg signed an Actional Plan on Racial and Ethnic Equality with Foreign Minister Jaime Bermúdez.
Recognizing that ethnic and racial diversity has been a crucial element in the development of democratic and multicultural societies, the United States Government and Colombian Government developed the Action Plan on Racial and Ethnic Equality. This plan seeks to eliminate forms of racial and ethnic discrimination in both societies. It focuses on sharing best practices and implementing cultural programming to address racial discrimination and related issues affecting under-represented racial and ethnic minority communities, particularly Afro-Colombians. The plan establishes a joint Steering Committee which will discuss a variety of important subjects, including: Education, Culture, Housing, Health, Employment and Labor, and Anti-discrimination legislation.
The Action Plan on Racial and Ethnic Equality builds on the work of the 2007 Intersectorial Comission for the Advancement of the Afro-Colombian, Palenquera and Raizal People, as well as the numerous programs funded by U.S. Embassy Bogotá targeting Afro-Colombian and Indigenous populations. Most notably, since 2008, USAID has allocated $15 million for the Productive Ethnic Territories (TEP) program to create income and employment generating activities. The U.S. government also funds several exchange and scholarship programs in Colombia, including Martin Luther King Fellows, College Horizons, and the Fulbright Leadership Program.
During the rest of Steinberg’s visit, he will meet with Colombian government officials, civil society and human rights groups, and representatives of the private sector to determine how the bilateral relationship can be strengthened and to ensure that prosperity is broadly shared among both Colombian and U.S. citizens.
U.S. Ambassador to Colombia William R. Brownfield met with leaders of the Colombian Federation of Educators on March 25. The Ambassador commended FECODE leaders for their dedication to the defense of workers’ and teachers’ rights, and expressed concern that Colombian labor leaders continue to face threats and violence due to their professional activities. The Ambassador emphasized that “labor organizations like FECODE play positive, essential roles in all democratic societies, including the United States and Colombia.”
FECODE was founded in 1959 and represents 220,000 workers organized in approximately 33 unions. It is one of the largest union federations in Colombia, with a large presence in the public education sector. Its leaders work on a national scale to uphold the rights of Colombian workers and teachers. Ambassador Brownfield met with the leaders of the General Confederation of Workers (CGT) in October of last year, and labor leaders from the United Confederation of Workers (CUT) in February of 2010.
Elementary students across America are taught that slavery ended in the 19th Century. But, sadly, nearly 150 years later, the fight to end this global scourge is far from over. Today it takes a different form and we call it by a different name — “human trafficking” — but it is still an affront to basic human dignity in the United States and around the world.
The estimates vary widely, but it is likely that somewhere between 12 million and 27 million human beings are suffering in bondage around the world. Men, women and children are trapped in prostitution or labor in fields and factories under brutal bosses who threaten them with violence or jail if they try to escape. Earlier this year, six ”recruiters” were indicted in Hawaii in the largest human trafficking case ever charged in U.S. history. They coerced 400 Thai workers into farm labor by confiscating their passports and threatening to have them deported.
I have seen firsthand the suffering that human trafficking causes. Not only does it result in injury and abuse—it also takes away its victims’ power to control their own destinies. In Thailand I have met teenage girls who had been prostituted as young children and were dying of AIDS. In Eastern Europe I have met mothers who lost sons and daughters to trafficking and had nowhere to turn for help. This is a violation of our fundamental belief that all people everywhere deserve to live free, work with dignity, and pursue their dreams.
For decades, the problem went largely unnoticed. But 10 years ago this week, President Clinton signed the Trafficking Victims’ Protection Act, which gave us more tools to bring traffickers to justice and to provide victims with legal services and other support. Today, police officers, activists, and governments are coordinating their efforts more effectively. Thousands of victims have been liberated around the world and many remain in America with legal status and work permits. Some have even become U.S. citizens and taken up the cause of preventing traffickers from destroying more lives.
This modern anti-trafficking movement is not limited to the United States. Almost 150 countries have joined the United Nations’ Trafficking Protocol to protect victims and promote cooperation among countries. More than 116 countries have outlawed human trafficking, and the number of victims identified and traffickers imprisoned is increasing each year.
But we still have a long way to go. Every year, the State Department produces a report on human trafficking in 177 countries, now including our own. The most recent report found that 19 countries have curtailed their anti-trafficking efforts, and 13 countries fail to meet the minimum standards for eliminating trafficking and are not trying to improve.
It is especially important for governments to protect the most vulnerable – women and children – who are more likely to be victims of trafficking. They are not just the targets of sex traffickers, but also labor traffickers, and they make up a majority of those trapped in forced labor: picking cotton, mining rare earth minerals, dancing in nightclubs. The numbers may keep growing, as the global economic crisis has exposed even more women to unscrupulous recruiters.
We need to redouble our efforts to fight modern slavery. I hope that the countries that have not yet acceded to the U.N. Trafficking Protocol will do so. Many other countries can still do more to strengthen their anti-trafficking laws. And all governments can devote more resources to finding victims and punishing human traffickers.
Citizens can help too, by advocating for laws that ban all forms of exploitation and give victims the support they need to recover. They can also volunteer at a local shelter and encourage companies to root out forced labor throughout their supply chains by visiting www.chainstorereaction.com.
The problem of modern trafficking may be entrenched, but it is solvable. By using every tool at our disposal to put pressure on traffickers, we can set ourselves on a course to eradicate modern slavery.