Remarks at a GA Meeting to Commemorate the 100th Anniversary of the International Labor Organization

Joan Barrett
Director for Multilateral Affairs, U.S. Department of Labor
New York City
April 10, 2019


Madam President, Director-General Ryder, Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, the United States offers its warm congratulations to the International Labor Organization on its centenary.

The ILO has carried on its mission through the Great Depression, World War II, the Cold War, the period of decolonization, and the advent of the digital age. It outlived the League of Nations, and it has persevered through a war-time exile in Montreal and then Philadelphia, and seven decades of sometimes tumultuous progress and change since the end of the Second World War. Throughout, it has been a relentless force for the protection of workers, for fairness, and for the peaceful resolution of disputes.

It has helped working people to become more prosperous, safer, healthier, and better represented.

It has also helped enable businesses throughout the world, providing tools to improve their labor relations, to find trained workers, and to better achieve industrial stability.

And it has helped countless governments develop sound and consistent labor laws and effective means of labor administration; developed labor standards that serve as the basis for many labor laws and trade agreements; and has served as a repository and source of expertise for all things labor-related.

The United States has been a strong supporter of the ILO, though with some different perspectives. We joined 15 years after its creation, and we dropped out from 1977-80. We have not always supported calls for budgetary increases and we do not rush to ratify ILO Conventions.

But we believe in and support the ILO and its important mission, and we have played a proud role in the ILO’s history.

The ILO’s inaugural meeting took place in Washington in 1919. When the ILO had to shutter its operations in Europe during World War II, it moved its annual conference to Philadelphia. There, in the midst of a brutal and tragic war, and in a city where our nation’s freedoms were enshrined, delegates adopted the Declaration of Philadelphia, which simply and elegantly sets out clear goals that continue to guide the ILO and shape the world of work across the globe.

We have supported the ILO’s supervision of fundamental worker rights and we have spoken out loudly and clearly for the protection of those rights.

The United States has been a strong partner in the ILO’s program to eliminate child labor — a focal point of a global effort that has succeeded like no other in addressing practices that could not, and should not, be tolerated by any society in any time period.

We have defended the right to freedom of association in the ILO Governing Body and in the annual International Labor Conference. In light of global efforts to roll back democratic gains, defending this right is as important as ever.

We have spoken out against the actions of those countries that tolerate forced labor and we have contributed to ILO efforts to end this most odious form of labor.

The ILO’s efforts to improve labor market policies, promote employment, and protect workers’ rights help to level the playing field for both workers and employers that play fairly. This is important for all of us. Virtually all of our free trade agreements and preference programs require our trading partners to protect internationally recognized worker rights. ILO standards provide the legal framework that defines these rights.

It is with great admiration and respect for what the ILO has accomplished in its first century that we salute its efforts and look forward to an ever more fruitful and successful second century.