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News

May 6 2006

Enforcing International Labor Standards

Katie Fuhrman, ILR BS '06, is a credit intern with the International Labour Organization in Geneva, Switzerland. She recently shared this summary of her research there

Katie Fuhrman, ILR BS '06After a junior year abroad at the London School of Economics, ILR’s credit internship program presented the perfect outlet for me to continue my international education. My semester at the International Labor Organization in Geneva, Switzerland offered me the opportunity to not only learn about the workings of an international non-governmental organization, but also to research a self-chosen topic for the ILO’s Policy Integration Department. 

During my three months in Geneva, the ILO was supportive in every aspect of my research, which centered on the effective enforcement of labor standards. My final paper reviews the successes and shortcomings of multilateral enforcement of labor standards as embodied by the ILO, the main international creator, promoter and enforcer of labor standards, in comparison with unilateral enforcement as used by the United States, which not only has a long history of promoting labor standard compliance within its trading partners through legislation, but also remains a leader in including worker rights protections in its trade agreements.

Another aim of my research was to present and examine a third approach of standard enforcement. “Cooperative trade approaches,” which refers to the process by which trade and labor standards are linked within a multilateral enforcement framework, have emerged as an alternative to the aforementioned options and deserve consideration as another avenue of labor standard enforcement. This research not only provided for a more thorough analysis of international labor standard enforcement, but also held that cooperative trade approaches minimize the shortcomings of the two traditional mechanisms.

My time at the ILO, while mostly centered on my particular research topic, was also spent attending paper presentation sessions and lectures of other scholars related to labor standards and working conditions around the globe. From economic analyses of slave labor to working conditions in third-world countries, the ILO is a forum for discussion of labor issues that face our world and the possible solutions to alleviate the problems.

Living and working in Switzerland added to my education in a way that traditional undergraduate education could not by providing me with the opportunity to take continuing French classes, to experience French-speaking Swiss culture, to immerse myself in the issues of international labor and to add to the existing literature on labor standards.