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A World of Decent Work: Labor Diplomacy for the New Century

Report of the Advisory Committee on Labor Diplomacy to the Secretary of State and the President of the United States, September 2000



President Bill Clinton and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright have highlighted the promotion of core worker rights -- including freedom of association, the right to organize and bargain collectively, freedom from discrimination, and the prohibition of child and forced labor -- as a key component of U.S. foreign policy. The promotion of core worker rights leads to more democratic, stable, and robust civil societies, and a stronger and more productive middle class. The U.S. Strategic Plan for International Affairs calls for the advancement of core labor standards, the strengthening of independent trade union movements and the promotion of labor and human rights. The State Department's Strategic Plan echoes this strategy.

The Secretary of State established the Advisory Committee on Labor Diplomacy to advise her and the President on the resources and policies necessary to ensure U.S. leadership on worker rights in the international community. The U.S. Government has historically taken a strong interest in labor conditions overseas, from the first labor reporting in the 1880's, to participation in the founding of the International Labor Organization in the early 20th century, to President Roosevelt's establishment of a labor attaché program, to the support of free and independent trade union movements during the Cold War. Now, with the emergence of a truly global economy, the growing importance of international trade and related trade agreements, the increasing interdependence of capital and labor markets, and intensified economic competition, international labor issues have taken on an even greater significance in U.S. foreign policy.

Unfortunately, even as the global economy has elevated the importance of core worker rights as critical U.S. foreign policy interests and goals, resources for the task fell through the 1980's and most of the 1990's. In the mid-1990's, the State Department deeply cut back on an already shrinking labor diplomacy program. The number of Labor Officers overseas decreased, and the status and authority of the highest level official handling labor issues was reduced. While much progress has been made in the past two years, with an increase in the number of Labor Officers and the creation of the position of Special Representative for International Labor Affairs, there needs to be institutional reform in the State Department to effect lasting, meaningful change. The Advisory Committee, after receiving remarks and briefings from a wide array of knowledgeable individuals, has crafted recommendations to transform the culture and institutions of the Department to accomplish the labor goals of the U.S. Government.

The Advisory Committee's recommendations are clustered around six basic areas for reform: (1) the role of the Ambassador in labor diplomacy; (2) the role and work of Labor Officers overseas; (3) the career path of Foreign Service Officers who work on labor issues; (4) the Department of Labor's role in the labor diplomacy program; (5) Washington's labor diplomacy apparatus, particularly the Special Representative for International Labor Affairs; and (6) labor training and awareness throughout the State Department.

First, the Advisory Committee recommends that U.S. Ambassadors be personally involved in developing the country strategy on labor diplomacy and personally committed to engaging in discussions with leaders at the highest level of the country about the U.S. Government's international labor priorities. The President should emphasize the importance of labor issues in his letter of instruction to Ambassadors and, prior to departing for their posts, Ambassadors should engage in consultations on the U.S. Government's international labor goals and on labor issues in the host country.

Second, the Advisory Committee recommends that the Secretary substantially increase the number of Labor Officers, including senior Labor Officers, and enhance the status of Labor Officers in overseas Missions. The Labor Officer is the Ambassador's key advisor on labor issues. The Labor Officer of the 21st Century must be an advocate for worker rights and an expert on labor conditions in the host country; should build coalitions among business, labor, civil society, government and non-governmental organizations; should coordinate U.S. Government labor-related programmatic activity; and should serve as a resource to U.S. and in-country policymakers on labor market programs and developments and related technical assistance programs. Labor Officers should spend most of their time working on the U.S. Government's labor priorities for the Mission; those at the FS-02 level and above should report to Deputy Chiefs of Mission and not section chiefs; Labor Officers should serve on their Embassies' Country Teams; and Labor Officers should be given the tools they need to perform their work effectively.

Third, the Advisory Committee recommends that the Secretary develop and expand the cadre of Labor Officers and make labor tours more attractive to Foreign Service generalists. A corps of labor experts in the Foreign Service, together with broad-based knowledge and support of labor issues throughout the Foreign Service, will result in a greater capacity to respond to the challenges of international labor diplomacy. To achieve this goal, the Secretary should restore and expand a labor promotion track and both encourage specialization in labor and recruit generalist Foreign Service Officers for one or two labor tours. The President and the Secretary of State should make it known that they will weigh labor and other global experience favorably in the ambassadorial selection process. The status of the Joint Award for Excellence in Labor Diplomacy should be enhanced. The Department should consider re-evaluating whether the "up or out" system is serving the Department's modern-day needs with respect to the development of expertise in labor and other global affairs. The Department should re-examine its practice of not hiring individuals with expertise into the Foreign Service's mid-level ranks, and should also use limited non-career appointments where special expertise is needed. The Department should place representatives from organized labor on Selection Boards. The Department should redouble its efforts to reach its goal of achieving a diverse Foreign Service, and, in particular, should recruit people of color for Labor Officer positions.

Fourth, the U.S. Department of Labor should play a greater role in the State Department's labor diplomacy program. The Department of Labor, which has such a strong interest in the implementation of new worker rights initiatives overseas, and which, along with the State Department, plays a major role in the development of international labor policy in international fora, should have an institutionalized role in the labor diplomacy program. The Advisory Committee recommends the establishment of a new Interagency Labor Diplomacy Program Committee to oversee the labor diplomacy program. In addition, the Department of Labor should have a greater role in the staffing and funding of labor positions. The Advisory Committee also recommends maintaining the Labor Department/State Department exchange program.

Fifth, the Secretary should strengthen labor diplomacy in Washington. The appointment of the Special Representative has been an important step in revitalizing labor diplomacy. But the position should be enhanced. The Special Representative should have more authority over Labor Officers. The position should be made permanent, and should be granted Ambassador-at-Large status. The resources of the International Labor Affairs Office should be increased to meet the expanding needs of labor diplomacy. There should be a senior Labor Officer in each Regional Bureau, as well as a designated labor advisor in the Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs and the International Organizations Bureau. In addition, there should be more labor coverage in the Department's strategic planning to reflect the U.S. Government's labor priorities, particularly in the Mission Performance Plans.

Sixth, the State Department must continue its recent efforts to sensitize the entire Foreign Service corps, from Ambassadors down to junior Foreign Service Officers, to the centrality of the mission of advocating core worker rights and strengthening independent trade union movements. The Foreign Service Institute should include more labor instruction in its courses, after engaging in a systematic analysis of labor content. Moreover, the Department should continue holding the Worldwide Annual Labor Officers Conference.

The Advisory Committee is grateful to the Secretary of State for all that she has already done to enhance labor diplomacy, and for her continued commitment to ensure U.S. leadership in international labor affairs. It looks forward to working with the Secretary in the implementation of these recommendations to strengthen the labor diplomacy program further.

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