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U.S. Department of Labor Taking an Interest in the ILO

On September 30, 2009, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) announced grants to support overseas projects to promote compliance with international labor standards set by the International Labour Organization (ILO).  This highlights the increased interest in and support for the work of the ILO on the part of the Obama administration.  The DOL is granting $6.4 million in funds, primarily to promote workers' rights projects in Haiti, Lesotho, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. These grants follow some high level diplomacy at the ILO's annual conference in Geneva in June.

At the International Labour Conference (ILC) in June 2009 (the ILO's annual conference to negotiate international labor standards), U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis made a cameo appearance, participating in a panel on "Rights at work, social dialogue and enterprise survival in times of crisis," along with her counterparts from Mexico, Argentina, and Egypt, and the presidents of the International Organization of Employers and the Confederation of German Trade Unions. At the conference, Solis demonstrated notable warmth to the representatives of the U.S. labor movement, including John Sweeney, President of the AFL-CIO, and announced her support for collective bargaining and its role in "bringing people back into the middle class."  Her most popular moment was when she said that the U.S. was not trying to dictate policy, but trying to listen.  This repetition of the Obama international message drew considerable applause. 
Senator Tom Harkin (D., Iowa) also addressed the ILC on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of ILO Convention 182 against child labor  (which is one of the few fundamental ILO conventions ratified as a treaty by the United States).  Harkin told the conference in plenary session that the ILO has a "friend in the White House."  This announcement received a standing ovation.
U.S. government involvement with the ILO is expected to increase during the Obama administration.  The international labor standards adopted by the ILO are now a fundamental part of the labor law of more than 180 countries.  There is no question that these standards -- and the ILO -- will become more influential in the development of U.S. labor policy in the future.
This entry was written by Margaret Hart Edwards, who was a member of the U.S. delegation to the ILC in June 2009.
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