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U.S. Department of State

greatseal Mission Statement for the Office of International Labor Affairs
Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
U.S. Department of State, May 5, 2000

The United States believes worker rights are human rights, as stated explicitly in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The United States works through bilateral and multilateral channels to encourage observance of the core worker rights as internationally recognized in the International Labor Organization's 1999 Declaration on "Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work and Its Follow-up."

Observance of fundamental worker rights, through properly enforced labor codes, contributes to both economic development and democratization. Respect for workers' rights, in particular their right to organize and bargain collectively, helps to ensure that the benefits of economic growth are shared broadly throughout societies, thus contributing to social and political harmony and sustained growth. Trade unions and workers' organizations are important participants in democratic processes, providing a popular voice, and protecting democratic rights. They are often among the most durable social institutions. Trade unions and workers' organizations also can play a central role in efforts to bridge ethnic, racial, and religious divisions within societies by organizing workers around their common economic and workplace interests.

In accordance with these principles and beliefs, the United States seeks to:

  • Promote worker rights as essential to democratic and economic progress;

  • Assist international organizations, governments, and non-governmental organizations as they promote worker rights and protect the legitimate interests of workers and their families;

  • Ensure that workers and their families share fairly in the benefits of economic globalization;

  • Protect those most vulnerable to the threat of exploitative labor, including children, women and minorities.
The Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (DRL), through the office of International Labor (DRL/IL), functions as the principal advocate of worker rights within the Department of State and coordinates U.S. international labor diplomacy within the Department, as well as coordinating international labor policy with other agencies and offices within the Federal Government.

Office of International Labor (DRL/IL) Mission

The Office of International Labor Affairs promotes the rights of workers throughout the world. The Office seeks to ensure that all workers can exercise their rights in the workplace and thus share in the prosperity of the global economy. To this end, the Office:

  • Promotes universal recognition and implementation of internationally recognized core labor standards, including (a) freedom of association and the effective recognition of the right to organize and bargain collectively; (b) the elimination of all forms of forced or compulsory labor; (c) the effective abolition of child labor; and (d) the elimination of discrimination in respect of employment and occupation;

  • Plays a major role in U.S. Government participation in the International Labor Organization and works with the Department of Labor and U.S. employer and worker representatives to develop and promote respect for internationally recognized worker rights;

  • Pursues the inclusion of worker rights on the agenda of international institutions, including the World Trade Organization, the United Nations, the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund;

  • Promotes the abolition of abusive child labor, with a particular emphasis on forced and indentured child labor;

  • Funds and assists in the development of programs to eliminate abusive sweatshop labor conditions in foreign factories that produce consumer goods for the American market;

  • Encourages corporate responsibility with regards to worker rights;

  • Plays a leading role in United States international labor diplomacy by coordinating the work of Foreign Service Labor Officers at Embassies overseas and by facilitating interagency cooperation on international labor affairs;

  • Monitors countries' compliance with worker rights' provisions in U.S. laws, such as the statutes governing the Overseas Private Investment Corporation and the Generalized System of Preferences;

  • Seeks ratification of ILO Convention 111 on non-discrimination in employment.

The International Labor Affairs Office seeks to ensure that U.S. goals of expanded exports, open markets, global growth, and economic development will proceed with fair treatment of workers in all countries. Such economic progress, coupled with respect for the fundamental rights of workers, will strengthen democratic development, foster the growth of consumer markets, and provide a more stable environment for civil society and the promotion of human rights.

The Office promotes workers' rights and interests overseas through cooperation with the U.S. Departments of Labor, Treasury, and Commerce; the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, the Agency for International Development, and the National Economic Council, among others. It also cooperates closely with U.S. organized labor, NGOs with an expertise in labor issues, and with corporations.

The International Labor Affairs Office is administering a $4 million "anti-sweatshop initiative," to fund the development of and research into approaches and mechanisms to combat sweatshop labor in overseas factories that produce for the U.S. market.

The Office also provides support to the "Advisory Committee on Labor Diplomacy," which advises the President and the Secretary of State on how to strengthen the labor function at the State Department.

The Office is a principal channel of communication between organized labor in the United States and the Department of State.


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