In the global economy, if you’re a farmer in Wisconsin or a coal miner in West Virginia, you could be competing directly with producers in other countries who use child labor, provide unsafe working conditions or do not pay workers wages they earned. At the U.S. Department of Labor, we are working every day to ensure that the American workforce is competing on an equal playing field free from competitors who use abuse as a competitive advantage.
On this Labor Day, we affirm that it is unacceptable that unfair and morally repellent labor practices should be suffered anywhere. Those nations around the world who allow their businesses to exploit their workers put U.S. workers and businesses at an unfair disadvantage in the international marketplace and violate their national and international commitments.
That is why the Department’s Bureau of International Labor Affairs, or ILAB, which I am privileged to lead, works to promote a fair global playing field and safeguard the dignity of work and workers everywhere.
As the U.S. government’s leading voice on international labor issues, ILAB works to promote worker rights and reduce child labor and forced labor around the world. And we have been doing this important work on behalf of U.S. workers for more than 70 years. Recently, our efforts were complimented by Director-General Guy Ryder, head of the International Labour Organization — a 100-year old United Nations agency, as the Trump administration led efforts to make labor provisions a standard of our trade agreements like the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA). Trade policy under the Trump administration expands opportunities and benefit for American workers at the same time it levels the playing field with trading partners. The administration is moving USMCA forward this fall because it puts American workers first.
ILAB supports U.S. negotiation of tougher labor standards efforts to enforce existing commitments, and helps hold trade partners accountable. We produce the world’s leading research on international child labor and forced labor, which serves not only as a tool for raising awareness globally, but as a road map for action by foreign governments to stop these abuses. This information is available on a mobile app called "Sweat & Toil."
We also put tools in the hands of businesses to help them root out child labor and forced labor in their supply chains, including through another mobile app called "Comply Chain." Our efforts have led to improved laws and enforcement among key trading partners and contributed to a global reduction in the number of child laborers by more than 94 million since 2000.
All this work helps U.S. workers and U.S. businesses prosper in the global marketplace. When U.S. businesses compete on a level playing field, they succeed. We stand up for the American worker. This work also helps us as a nation to live by our values.
All this is what drives and informs ILAB’s work. As we engage internationally, we do so to benefit our workforce and to reinforce the standards and reflect the values we’ve worked so hard to protect and preserve.
On the 125th anniversary of Labor Day, we will continue to fight for the dignity of work — free from forced labor, child labor and unsafe conditions.
Martha E. Newton is the Deputy Undersecretary for International Affairs at the U.S. Department of Labor.
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