Corena Sharp was a MAIR student who also spent last summer interning at UNICEF in Geneva. She wrote this post last fall, and is now a new Maxwell alumnus.
Ever read a Human Rights Report released by the State Department? They are released every year and cover every country in the world, and then some. U.S. Diplomats and NGOs alike use them to advocate for human rights. Section 7 of these reports details workers’ rights. I never considered the fascinating position of labor rights before I interned in the Office of International Labor Affairs (ILA) within the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (DRL).
Unlike many human rights, labor rights are often considered oppositional human rights. It is rare that someone would stand up and argue that people do not deserve clean drinking water, but champions of workers’ rights often face skepticism and even hostility. When countries compete for trade deals, they often create a ‘race to the bottom’ where the lowest compensation and fewest benefits make countries and companies more competitive in the name of economic growth. However, many have begun asking ‘growth for whom?’ The Sustainable Development Goals are trying to address this issue through the promotion of ‘inclusive growth.’ The strongest force for protecting workers is the freedom of association and collective bargaining. Yet, few things can shut down a conversation faster than the word ‘unions.’ Achieving decent work is incredibly important for sustainable development; the challenge is changing the perceived either-or categories that labor rights and economic growth are often given.
My small office takes the lead to develop Section 7 into an effective tool for advocates. Developing a successful final draft of these reports goes beyond just proofreading. An effective report is built from research contributed by every editor and thus requires clear communication among the drafters. By utilizing SharePoint, DRL fosters the collaboration among Foreign Service Officers at embassies abroad, editors in regional offices, and policy offices such as ILA. ILA in turn coordinates with the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons and the Department of Labor. Back-to-back tranches of these reports flow into the office—each with different editors depending on their successful completion of each stage of the editing process. The more complete the report, the better a government can be held accountable.