Many people I talk to are surprised to learn of the U.S. Department of Labor’s strong and important work around the world. Sure, they are familiar with DOL’s initiatives to ensure safe workplaces, or our vast network of Job Corps centers across the country that provide education and training to at-risk youth . . . but beyond our borders? That work is not as well known.
It should be . . . because we are doing extraordinary things for workers around the world, and one area that is particularly close to my heart is our efforts to eliminate exploitive and dangerous child labor — both in the United States and around the world.
The Bureau of International Labor Affairs (ILAB) leads the U.S. Department of Labor’s efforts to ensure that workers around the world are treated fairly and are able to share in the benefits of the global economy. ILAB’s mission is to use all available international channels to improve working conditions, raise living standards, protect workers’ ability to exercise their rights, and address the workplace exploitation of children and other vulnerable populations.
Last year alone (and I’m very proud to say this) we provided approximately $70 million for programs to protect and promote labor rights and combat abusive child labor in more than 26 countries around the world.
One of the best parts about my job is seeing this money at work . . . to actually visit our global projects, meet the children and working families that are benefitting from them, and get ideas about how we can replicate successful efforts in other countries.
I recently had the chance to do just that, when I visited Nicaragua and El Salvador. This trip was certainly professionally gratifying, but it had a special personal meaning for me as well: In the 1950s, my mother Juana left her family and friends in Nicaragua and came to the United States.
I wanted to remember this trip, and share the experience with staff at the Department of Labor, friends and family, and advocates and activists working to protect workers’ rights and combat child labor. So during my brief trip, I kept a diary. I jotted notes during car rides from one event to another, backstage before a press conference or event, and late at night, in my hotel room, after long and exciting days.
Here’s what I saw. And learned.
Hilda Solis is the United States Secretary of Labor.