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Reforming International Law Enforcement

A ship in a foreign port

International organizations such as those governing maritime law – the International Maritime Organization and the International Labor Organization – lack their own enforcement bodies, and instead outsource that enforcement to their member states.

During the pandemic, however, those member states neither followed nor enforced ILO’s rules, harming hundreds of thousands of seafarers in the process.

In her article “Outsourcing Enforcement,” forthcoming in the Virginia Journal of International Law, Desiree LeClercq “unearths the state-centric drawbacks linked to outsourced enforcement, including political fealties, power imbalances, and market priorities.”

She writes, “The implications of outsourced enforcement are wide-reaching, and the stakes of compliance are high, particularly given concurrent attempts to establish similar systems of outsourced enforcement across new international instruments.”

Using international maritime labor law as a case study, LeClercq describes how states were able to disregard their international legal commitments during the pandemic and refuse to enforce fundamental labor rights, harming 600,000 seafarers in the process.

“The pandemic has exposed cracks in international law’s system of outsourced enforcement to states,” LeClercq wrote. “States are both members and subjects of international organizations. When the calculus of state compliance changes or national interests intervene, states as law enforcers either refuse to enforce international law or do so according to national interpretations and interests.”

LeClercq, the Proskauer Assistant Professor of Employment and Labor Law proposes a new theory of outsourced enforcement – specifically, one that is based on adjudicative bodies, housed in the international organizations themselves, responsible for creating and interpreting international law and capable of issuing mandatory enforcement directives.

Member states created international organizations and have a vested interest in the success of international legal regimes,” said LeClercq. “It is therefore both possible and necessary for those states to create international adjudicative bodies to achieve the organizational mission.”

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