Worldwide Labor Officers ConferencePaula J. Dobriansky,
Under Secretary of State for Global Affairs
Loy Henderson Auditorium
July 17, 2003
It is a pleasure to address this group at what is becoming an annual event for me as well. It is so important to gather our officers from the far corners of the world. The exchange of ideas will be important for each of you; at the same time it is essential for our labor policy as we strengthen and fine-tune our efforts to advance labor issues globally.
Your work has an impact that extends far beyond your post or office. Your day-to-day tasks vary so greatly, and I’m sure at times -- like many in public service -- you feel that you may be the lone ranger on a given issue. But your efforts to advance labor issues, to give voice to those who may rarely be heard, to hold the line when all else seems to be backsliding in a given country -- those efforts are appreciated and are what has ensured that the United States has continued to be a leader in labor affairs.
Your work to promote respect for internationally recognized worker rights is not only essential to our labor policy but it extends well into our objectives to improve political freedom, international security, and balanced economic growth throughout the world. Now more than ever, our interests are more closely intertwined with others, and the effects of globalization are felt in many ways. Just look at the agenda at this labor conference; it includes political stability, economic development, human rights, and law enforcement.
In many of these areas, the United States is called to address the challenges in the international arena. This brings both serious tests, as well as opportunities to improve respect for worker rights and other human values we cherish. It is an opportunity for you to impact issues well beyond the “traditional” labor area. Your reporting and diplomatic efforts play a key role in informing policymakers about broader developments and highlighting possibilities that enable us to advance not only our labor policy but also our broader political, economic, and security agendas.
I will cite a few examples of high priority areas in Global Affairs in which labor issues are an integral component. Let me start with an issue I spend a great deal of time on: the promotion of democracy, good governance, and the rule of law. The link to labor issues is a natural one.
We send the message worldwide that governments are to serve their citizens, address citizens’ needs, and protect citizens’ rights. While we hear from many governments about the progress they are making in this arena, sometimes this rhetoric doesn’t match their actions. Often we see that it is the working class, minorities, women, or other populations that are not benefiting from emerging democracy. By spotlighting this, we can underscore to governments that democracy, good governance, and the rule of law must extend to each citizen of their nation. We have made great progress advancing a global initiative called the Community of Democracies, which links the world’s democracies together to jointly promote democracy across the globe. Your efforts on labor can be crucial to highlighting whether countries should be part of this Community, as well as how this Community can help advance labor rights.
Likewise, labor is a crucial channel into another important component of the democratization process -- civil society-building. We seek opportunities worldwide to bolster civil society and to advocate that an active citizenry that holds its government accountable is a cornerstone of a strong society, not a threat to it. Here, again, your support in helping labor unions play that role is crucial.
At a recent conference we sponsored, several government officials complained about irresponsible media and civil society organizations which they saw as more detrimental than helpful to democratization. Many advocated controls on organizations and speech. We worked hard to make clear that it was not the freedom of these organizations that was problematic; it was the quality of organizations that needed to be raised. Indeed better NGOs, labor unions, and journalists were the answer; not less. While governments heard this message, we also learned an important lesson. Our role must not be simply to advocate the growth of civil society, but to help develop professional, effective actors in this sector. You are in a crucial position to do that.
Let me turn to women’s issues. This subject gained particular prominence after the fall of the Taliban and through the increasing role women are playing globally in economic and political development. In the last week, I was in Iraq talking to women about their role in the future of Iraq, and also met recently with Afghan Foreign Minister Abdullah, Minister of Women’s Affairs Sarabi, and a wonderful group of Americans and Afghans who make up the U.S.-Afghan Women’s Council. These representatives from the public and private sectors can contribute to political and economic growth in their countries.
The treatment of women in the workplace has obvious implications for economic development, democratization, and human rights. Any society in which women are relegated primarily to low-skill jobs or are denied access to training or education for skilled jobs or professions is not only violating basic rights of half or more of its own citizens, but depriving itself of enormous intellectual and economic power sources.
Labor officers can advocate for women’s inclusion, report on local developments, and craft initiatives to make progress in this area. Reporting on issues such as workplace discrimination, wage differentials, or women’s worker organizations would paint a picture of the overall political and economic development and a country’s commitment to women’s rights. Targeted projects can also advance the status of women in the workplace. The Labor Department’s recent initiative to provide sewing machines and training for Afghan women is a perfect example. Their first project was sewing uniforms for girls who were finally returning to school.
Let me turn to trafficking in persons. I won’t go into too much detail, since you heard from two experts today. This issue is of great importance to our Administration. Although trafficking is such a blatant violation of so many labor and human rights standards, it is also unfortunately one of the most widespread worker rights violations found in every region of the world. Labor trafficking is found in sweatshops, in fields, in factories, and homes. The long term impact on individuals and societies is vast and the amount of attention needed is tremendous.
Your reporting on forced labor, child labor, and relevant laws is essential to our efforts to combat trafficking. Your contributions to the annual trafficking in persons and the annual child labor reports were excellent. As our staff from the trafficking office mentioned today, this is a crucial year in which we are making tough decisions on sanctions and how to galvanize action to end this unspeakable crime. Your reporting and analysis will continue to be essential to that process.
In closing, I would like to emphasize again how important your contributions are to our global agenda and our wider foreign policy. The impact of your work is felt here and throughout the world. In your dealings with government officials, unions, NGOs, media, and others in the countries you serve in, you are the face of America and voice for this issue. Thank you.
Released on July 23, 2003