International Labor Rights Forum
|This article relies on references to primary sources. (March 2009)|
|Motto||Building a just world for workers.|
|Type||Non-profit, Interest group|
|Services||Media attention, direct-appeal campaigns, research, lobbying|
|Fields||Protecting labor rights|
|Key people||Judy Gearhart|
The International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF) is a nonprofit advocacy organization headquartered in Washington, DC that describes itself as "an advocate for and with the working poor around the world". ILRF, formerly the International Labor Rights Education & Research Fund, was founded in 1986. The organization's mission statement reads, "ILRF believes 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. ILRF works to develop practical and effective tools to assist workers in winning enforcement of protections for their basic rights, and hold labor rights violators accountable."
After Kailash Satyarthi and Bread for the World founded Rugmark in 1994, ILRF helped the young foundation open a US-based office in DC in 1995; the two groups continue to share offices today. In 2007, the litigation department of ILRF, noted for its use of the Alien Tort Claims Act in litigation against those who violate labor rights, was spun off into a separate organization, International Rights Advocates ("IRAdvocates"). ILRF now focuses primarily on research, lobbying, boycott campaigns and various other advocacy roles though it retains legal staff.
According to its website, the ILRF has worked directly to promote labor rights through:
- Research and publication
- Public campaigning and media outreach
- Promoting new ILO Conventions and their ratification
- Promoting reform of US legislation
- Advising multinational corporations on issues of corporate social responsibility
- Using litigation, especially the Alien Tort Claims Act (ATCA), to hold corporations accountable
- Using trade-related complaints processes to hold governments accountable
Fairness in Flowers
ILRF's Fairness in Flowers Campaign has worked since 2003 to promote the rights of workers in the cut flower industry. Ecuador and Colombia are major exporters of cut flowers to the United States and European markets. Workers on cut flower plantations are routinely subjected to high levels of toxic pesticides without proper health and safety equipment. These women must also contend with gender-based labor rights violations such as sexual harassment and pregnancy discrimination. ILRF advocates on behalf of these workers, supports a legal center in Ecuador that helps them bring work-related grievances against their employers, and collaborates with certification initiatives like Fair Flowers Fair Plants (FFP) and Veriflora.
Approximately 211 million of the world’s children, between the ages of 5 and 14, work at least part-time, according to the International Labour Organization (ILO), the tripartite body representing governments, labor, and employees. Of these, 120 million children are working full-time to help support their impoverished families. Although child labor is most common in developing countries, it is found throughout the world, including in the United States. Many of these children are forced into the workforce to become beggars, farm hands, and factory workers. They are exposed to conditions extremely harmful to their physical and mental well-being. ILRF has helped develop programs to fight child labor and is involved in monitoring conditions in various regions of the world. ILRF is also currently engaged in two corporate campaigns related to child labor: one targeting the Firestone Tire and Rubber Company for their use of child labor on a rubber plantation in Liberia and the other focusing on the chocolate industry for child labor on cocoa farms in West Africa.
Rights For Working Women Campaign
ILRF has recently developed a Rights For Working Women Campaign which seeks to alleviate labor conditions that disproportionately affect working women in developing countries through research, public education, litigation, legislative action, and grassroots mobilization. To begin the campaign, ILRF has undertaken a global initiative to promote increased awareness of and viable remedies for the problem of workplace sexual harassment. As of 1997, there were only thirty-six countries with legislation specifically targeting sexual harassment. Of those countries, only 12 were from Latin America, the Caribbean or Africa. It is not uncommon for women to be subjected to bodily searches or fired for refusing sexual advances. The prevalence of subcontracting and other forms of "flexible" work arrangements in the global economy make it very difficult for women to organize against such abuse.
Accord on Fire and Building Safety
Designed to hold companies around the world accountable to worker safety in sweatshop conditions, ILRF created the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in 2012. As of May 2013, the accord has been signed by seventeen companies: Aldi, Benetton, C&A, Carrefour, El Corte Inglés, G-Star, H&M, Helly Hansen, Inditex (Zara), KIK, Loblaw, M&S, Mango, N. Brown group, Primark, Stockmann, and Tesco. Fourteen U.S. companies refuse to sign the accord: Walmart, Gap, Macy’s, Sears/Kmart, JCPenney, VF Corp., Target, Kohl’s, Cato Fashions, Carter’s, Nordstrom, American Eagle Outfitters, The Children’s Place, and Foot Locker.