ILRF is an advocacy organization dedicated to achieving just and humane treatment for workers worldwide.
Millions of workers around the world toil under inhumane working conditions. In a globalized economy, corporations from developed countries produce consumer goods ranging from coffee to cellphones in poor developing countries, where they can take advantage of cheap labor and lack of environmental or community protections. Workers, including child workers, must toil extremely long hours for wages that are barely subsistence wages, and often under unsanitary and unsafe conditions. In many countries there is little or no labor law enforcement, and many workers are prevented from joining organizations to advance their interests.
Alarmingly, an estimated 211 million children between the ages of 5 and 14 are compelled to work around the world. These children produce rubber, cotton, coffee and work in mines to produce goods that are traded to the United States and other developed countries. Unable to go to school, these children face little hope of escaping poverty in their future.
Advocacy for these workers is essential to ensuring their protection, strengthening their voice, and ending abuses that violate their rights and dignity. ILRF is an advocacy organization dedicated to achieving just and humane treatment for workers worldwide. ILRF serves a unique role among human rights organizations as advocates for and with working poor around the world. We believe that all workers have the right to a safe working environment where they are treated with dignity and respect, and where they can organize freely to defend and promote their rights and interests. We are committed to ending the problems of child labor, forced labor, and other abusive practices. We promote enforcement of labor rights internationally through public education and mobilization, research, litigation, legislation, and collaboration with labor, government and business groups.
Stop Child Labor
ILRF engages in corporate campaigns to fight for an end to child labor globally. We are currently focusing on the cocoa industry (especially Nestle) for their use of child labor in West Africa and Bridgestone Firestone for child labor on their rubber plantation in Liberia. ILRF also has been heavily engaged in the issue of child labor in cotton and cottonseed fields.
Rights for Working Women
This campaign seeks to alleviate sexual harassment in the workplace and address other issues of concern to women workers through campaigns, worker education, reform of local laws, judicial advocacy, and workplace monitoring.
Creating a Sweatfree World
Through this campaign, the ILRF seeks to challenge sweatshop conditions globally, promote ethical alternatives and advocate for labor rights in US trade policy. The ILRF also has a campaign targeting Wal-Mart for abuse of workers’ rights in their suppliers’ factories. ILRFs newest focus is on sweatshops in the fields as the food and agricultural supply chains become increasingly consolidated and riddled with unimaginable labor rights violations. The Fairness in Flowers campaign raises awareness in the US about labor rights violations and health and safety problems in the cut flower industry.
Freedom at Work
Throughout the world, labor activists are targets of repression for their organizing efforts. ILRF, in collaboration with unions and activist groups, campaigns to fight violence against trade union leaders globally and to protect the right of workers to organize and collectively bargain. We participate in urgent actions to support unions, especially in the Philippines and Colombia which are two of the most dangerous countries for trade unionists.
ILRF's SUCCESS: Highlights from the Last Two Decades
Linking Labor Rights to Trade — Working with leaders of the labor movement, members of the original founders of ILRF created and successfully advocated for the first ever workers’ rights protection clause in US trade legislation in 1984. The Workers’ Rights Conditionality Clause in the General System of Preferences (GSP) requires that any country seeking preferential access to US markets must respect the internationally recognized workers’ rights of its workforce, including the right to freedom of association.
Linking Labor Rights to Foreign Assistance - ILRF led a broad-based coalition that convinced the US government to place human rights conditions on US foreign aid to the Philippines. ILRF was also able to convince the US government to launch an investigation into the continuing labor rights violations in the Philippines and place the trade benefits of the Philippine government under review.
Cocoa Campaign — ILRF has long maintained a public awareness and advocacy campaign to end child labor in the cocoa farms of West Africa. In 2009, ILRF helped to finally convince the first of the chocolate giants, Cadbury, to make a commitment to Fair Trade certified cocoa standards and expects more companies to follow this example.
Stop Firestone Campaign — For over two and a half years, ILRF worked with allies in the US and Liberia to support workers on Firestone’s rubber plantation in Liberia and to stop the use of child labor. Through the campaign and the organizing efforts of workers, an historic collective bargaining agreement was signed between the workers and Firestone in August 2008. This is the first contract Firestone has signed with an independent and democratically elected union leadership in over 80 years of operating in Liberia.
China Labor Law Program - Since 2003, ILRF has worked with Chinese partners to address the need for more judges, labor law practitioners, and workers who are trained in the content of the country’s labor laws and in the advocacy skills needed to better represent workers’ claims in arbitration and court. Together with its partners, ILRF has trained over 350 judges, arbitrators, lawyers, employees of government legal aid centers and the All China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU), as well as thousands of workers.
Unocal Burma Case - In 1996, ILRF filed a precedent-setting lawsuit against Unocal on behalf of thousands of Burmese villagers who were forced to work on the construction of a natural gas pipeline for the company. In addition to forced labor, the Burmese military, who worked in collaboration with the company, also murdered, raped, and tortured Burmese villagers during the construction period. After almost ten years of litigation, Unocal settled on April 13, 2005, and agreed not only to compensate the workers, but to also provide funds for programs in Burma to improve living conditions and protect the rights of villagers in the pipeline region.
Global March Against Child Labor - ILRF played a leading role in a worldwide campaign that mobilized millions of people in 109 countries to promote the passage of ILO Convention 182 on the Worst Forms of Child Labor. The global march started on January 17, 1998, and highlighted the hidden forms of child labor – children in the fields, in domestic servitude, in prostitution, and in the street as beggars. The year following the march, the International Labor Organization unanimously adopted the convention, and over 150 countries have ratified the convention to date.
FOULBALL Campaign - Starting in 1996, ILRF began working extensively with international partners to expose the pervasive use of child labor in the production of soccer balls. Through intervention and negotiation with large producers like Nike and Reebok, ILRF was instrumental in convincing the industry to shift production to adult labor and to establish education programs for the former child workers.
Fairness in Flowers Campaign - Since 2003, ILRF has worked to promote the labor rights, of female workers in the cut flower industry, with a particular focus on their health and safety. After a five year campaign, ILRF was able to help cut flower workers in Colombia secure signed contracts on two Dole flower plantations in July 2008. The contracts will provide benefits such as significant pay increases, improved vacation and sick time, and additional pay for workers exposed to hazardous chemicals.
Cotton Campaign - ILRF has led a US coalition to end systemic forced and child labor that pervades the cotton fields of Uzbekistan. ILRF has promoted diplomatic and trade pressure and engaged with organic, fair trade cotton producers and major companies seeking “clean” sources of cotton to end this practice. In mid-2008, as a direct result of pressure from ILRF and its allies, the Government of Uzbekistan ratified the two key ILO conventions against child labor, Conventions 182 and 138.
Workers in the Global Economy - In 2001, ILRF produced groundbreaking analysis of the effects of trade rules on workers in the publication Workers in the Global Economy. After a decade of trade modeled on the Washington Consensus, ILRF’s publication shattered the illusion that free trade without protection for workers is viable, and offered alternative solutions to the International Monetary Fund as well as other global financial institutions.
World Bank - Worked with trade unions and NGOs in Brazil and Central America to bring about the first successful efforts to demand public accountability on labor rights violations in World Bank Projects.
RUGMARK - established RUGMARK in the U.S., an innovative program which moves child laborers in the carpet industry from work to school, and helped create a system of international governance for RUGMARK. To date, the program has certified over two million child labor-free carpets.