09 November 2000

Transcript: Albright on U.S. Labor Diplomacy Efforts

(Enforcement of standards is critical)

U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright says that the enforcement of core labor standards is fundamental to the respect for human rights and to the spread of democracy worldwide.

The United States "can't have a successful U.S. foreign policy without effective labor diplomacy," Albright said November 8 to the U.S. Advisory Committee on Labor Diplomacy meeting in Washington.

The labor diplomacy advisory committee met to draft recommendations for submission to the secretary of state and the president.

Albright also said she has expanded the role of labor diplomacy within the department by tripling the size of the Office of International Labor Affairs over the past 18 months, and increased the number of foreign service officers in labor positions by 50 percent.

But she also said the importance of labor diplomacy must be stressed by ensuring "that our ambassadors are better equipped to recognize and foster the link between worker rights and U.S. goals abroad."

Following is the transcript of Albright's remarks:
(begin transcript)

Office of the Spokesman
November 8, 2000

As Delivered

Harry S Truman Building Room 1105

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Thank you very much, Frank, and I suspect that most of us have had a pretty long night, so I'm very glad that everybody is here. And as I have said over and over again, when I became Secretary I had all my political instincts surgically removed, but during the night they somehow reappeared. (Laughter.)

I want to thank Chairman Donahue and the Advisory Committee. I think your hard work has really been exceptionally important and has produced an exceptionally useful report.

In a moment, I would like to pick up on your discussion with my colleagues about the Department's response to your recommendations, but first let me make a general point. I am absolutely convinced after four years of doing this job that we can't have a successful U.S. foreign policy without effective labor diplomacy. It is very much a part of what we have been doing and should be doing, and with your help we'll do an even better job.

Because the enforcement of core labor standards is fundamental to the respect for human rights and to the spread of democracy worldwide. As Frank pointed out, this has been -- well, for those of you who knew me before, it has always been my passionate interest. But I really do think that as we look at the spread of democracy we have to look at the component parts, and core labor standards are clearly key to having things work properly.

Because the only way that we can address the disparities that a global economy does present is to insist that every society, regardless of its level of economic development, recognizes the dignity of work and the right to organize. Because that is the only way to improve the prospects for our children, and that they should be able to grow up in a world that is peaceful and prosperous.

And I think it will also obviously give American workers a more level playing field on which to compete, and that is why I was so glad to bring on board our Special Representative for International Labor Affairs, a position we will be making permanent at an appropriate rank.

It is also why we have tripled the size of our Office of International Labor Affairs for the past 18 months, and it is why we have increased the number of foreign service officers in labor positions by 50 percent. And it is why we agree with you that an increase in personnel must be accompanied by an increase in awareness among all our diplomats of the importance of the labor issues.

In the late '80s, our political officers in Poland needed to gain expertise on labor issues as well, and today the same is true of our economic officers in Burma, for example, or throughout the globe. As you have heard from Sandra Polaski -- and I must repeat what Frank said. I think having her with us, having first of all the slot is important, but having Sandra in it I think is exceptionally important. She has been just fabulous with her ideas and being a team player in every way. And, Sandra, so we are very grateful for everything you have done.

I have directed a review of your report, and that is going to be chaired by Frank Loy and Wendy Sherman and Bonnie Cohen. The preliminary consensus was reached on almost half of your recommendations. We have accepted eight unconditionally, including several that I found particularly useful.

For example, we are going to be taking steps to ensure that our ambassadors are better equipped to recognize and foster the link between worker rights and U.S. goals abroad. I have to say that as I have traveled abroad and met with various constituency groups of those connected with the United States -- it is a variety of groups -- I always feel that, for instance, our businesses that do have good labor standards in many ways pursue the same exact interests that the U.S. Government does and should. And so that is an important aspect that ambassadors need to understand that better.

We are also going to make permanent both the Annual Labor Officers Conference and the Joint Award for Labor Diplomacy, and we will enhance and make permanent our exchange program with the Department of Labor. In addition, I have asked Under Secretary Loy and Assistant Secretary Koh to chair a working group to study the remaining recommendations on which consensus was not reached. They are also looking at five recommendations that we are in the process of accepting with some modifications.

The working group will try to place these recommendations within the context of our overall foreign policy priorities and resources. Now, we will not have a budget before mid-November at the earliest. We may not have a President by then, either. (Laughter.) So we can't make very definitive plans. Meanwhile, the working group had its first meeting yesterday, and I have asked them to report back to me by mid-December.

I really do think that this -- what really has been a rigorous review -- will help strengthen the hand of American labor diplomacy, because I consider that very, very important and that is why, President Sweeney, I have been so grateful for your input into this and your pressing and pushing. And everything always takes a little longer than you think, but I think thanks to your hard work and working with us, I think we have really moved this project forward.

And it is the right thing to do. I mean, it's right and smart, and it helps us to build the kind of world in which both of our interests and values can thrive. And if it's properly understood and presented, this is work that any administration of either political party should be prepared to enhance and support.

As I look at what things we have accomplished during these last four years, I want to make sure that some of the innovations really do find a permanent place within the Department's structure and become a permanent part of U.S. foreign policy. And this is right up there. I think that this has been something that I think we should all be very proud of. And your continued help in this is going to be very important. I know you will be moving on now to examine how international labor issues are dealt with in the interagency process. This will be my last opportunity to visit with the full committee.

So before we resume discussion here, I would just like to thank all of you that have been a part of this for giving your time and your energy and dedication. When you undertook your lives as labor leaders, I have always admired the great dedication, and it spreads into various other parts. And becoming a part of the U.S. Government may have not have been something that you intended in this way, but I do think it has been a very important partnership. I think that is the best way to describe it. So I'm very grateful to you, and with that, let me stop talking and do a little listening.

Thank you very much. Thank you.

(end transcript)