Meridian Global Business Briefing with Ms. Thea Lee, Deputy Undersecretary for International Affairs, Department of Labor

Members of the Meridian Corporate Council and Foreign Diplomats listen to Deputy Undersecretary Lee's opening remarks. Photo By Stephen Bobb

1. ILAB Supports Worker Rights and Conditions in Neighboring Markets

The Bureau of International Labor Affairs (ILAB) serves as an independent section of the Department of Labor, focusing specifically on strengthening global labor standards, fighting human and child trafficking, and promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion. In Central and South America, the Bureau works to strengthen freedoms of association, improve safety and health conditions and regulations, and partner with similar organizations to further improve labor rights. ILAB also represents, coordinates, and facilitates U.S. Government participation in the labor components of all major international organizations that deal with labor and employment issues.

2. Human Labor Violations Undermine Free Trade

Deputy Under Secretary Lee outlined the Bureau of International Labor Affair’s commitment to ending reliance on forced labor, and the way that the Bureau’s members work together to provide alternatives. The Office of Child Labor, Forced Labor, and Human Trafficking involves a Technical Assistance and Cooperation Unit, and in cooperation with the Research and Policy Unit, produce weekly and bi-weekly reports on abuses in human rights. The Bureau also reviews submissions of official complaints from organizations to guarantee that trade partners succeed in their labor commitments.

3. U.S. Trade is Aided by Equitable Labor

One key focus of the ILAB is serving as a representative for the interests of U.S. workers abroad, spending time working with sister organizations to fight unfair trade barriers and protecting intellectual property abroad, ultimately shaping U.S. trade policy for the better. The task of enforcing U.S. trade agreements and the incorporated labor provisions helps to even the playing field, as the office of trade and labor affairs works to monitor and analyze the compliance of our trade partners. Central to strong international trade policy is the addition of strong labor standards to any forms of negotiations. Ms. Lee posited the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework as a prime example of framing the conversation to promote a worker-centered vision that harnesses trade policy as a tool to uphold robust labor provisions and social welfare.

4. U.S. Foreign Policy is Increasingly Reliant on Strong Labor Policy

Deputy Undersecretary Lee spoke briefly on the Office of International Relations and Economic Research, An office within ILAB, which works very closely with the Department of State to inform foreign policy makers of the most substantial developments in international markets. For example, bilateral Agreements with Qatar, Switzerland, Germany, and Japan are all maintained by the Office of International Relations. These policy makers also inform our interests and transnational engagements. Ms. Lee highlighted the recent global launch of the M-POWER initiative as an instrumental diplomatic tool to protect and uplift democratic worker organizations. Already, the governments of Argentina, Canada, and Spain compromise M-POWER’s ranks.

5. ILAB Informs the Global Community of the Nature of Forced Labor

Ms. Lee was proud of the growing research capacity of the Bureau, as they are a primary resource for information on the nature and prevalence of forced human and child labor for trade partners to remain aware of risk factors and workers in increasingly vulnerable positions. By promoting resources such as global estimates on child labor and implementing global standards for guaranteeing progress on these matters, the Bureau continues to improve the statistics and data for member organizations and future partners to remain informed.

Project summary

Meridian Global Business Briefing with Ms. Thea Lee, Deputy Undersecretary for International Affairs, Department of Labor | December 2022
Number of Visitors: 25
Number of Attendees: 25
Regions: Africa, Europe and Eurasia, Western Hemisphere, South and Central Asia
Impact Areas: Business and Trade
Program Areas: Diplomatic Engagement
Partners: Private Sector, Diplomatic Corps
Meridian GBB Thea Lee