It has been a tremendous honor to serve as ILRF’s executive director since 2011 and to come to know so many inspiring advocates for workers’ rights around the world. I very much plan to stay engaged in this work and will remain an ardent supporter of the new team as the ILRF and Global Labor Justice staff come together to build a bigger base of support for the courageous organizers and labor rights defenders around the world who inspire us day in and day out.
This is an important moment and having a larger base for this work is vital. As the pandemic continues and the global economy continues to struggle while the world awakens – we hope – to the depth and breadth of racism in the U.S. and globally, advocacy for workers’ rights and equality is more important than ever.
I will continue to sign their petitions – because solidarity and collective voice matter – and continue to DONATE because individual donor support is vital to enabling the new organization to respond quickly when worker advocates are under threat.
I will also be there to celebrate the 2020 Labor Rights Defender Awardees because the awardees’ courage and commitment are at the heart of everything we do.
I have been a part of the ILRF community since 1989 when I began scouring Washington for organizations advocating economic and social rights and found Pharis Harvey, John Cavanagh, and Lance Compa setting up ILRF to be one of the few organizations pioneering this work at that time. ILRF has maintained that innovative, pioneering spirit ever since, continuously expanding and creating new pathways for advocating workers’ rights. This has made ILRF both resilient and beloved by many. It is that willingness to innovate that saw ILRF help to organize the Global March to End Child Labor with Nobel Laureate Kailash Satyarthi; found GoodWeave with its community-based, remediation-focused approach to ending child labor in the carpet industry; co-found the Cotton Campaign, the Food Chain Workers Alliance, and many other coalitions and campaigns; and merge efforts with SweatFree Communities and the U.S. Labor Education in the Americas Program. ILRF’s merger with Global Labor Justice is yet another step in this history of innovation and constant drive to build a stronger base for worker rights advocacy around the world.
Each ILRF staff member has brought so much talent, drive, and creativity to this work, teaching me and each other along the way. Each one of our successes over these past ten years was only possible thanks to their commitment and the strong base built by the staff and executive directors who came before us. Although there is not space to list them all, there are several achievements of which I am particularly proud:
1. The negotiation of the Accord for Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh. Born from decades’ of collaboration among ILRF, the Worker Rights Consortium, Clean Clothes Campaign, the Maquila Solidarity Network, and independent Bangladeshi trade unions, the Accord is a path-breaking enforceable brand agreement that has shown how transparency, effective grievance mechanisms, and binding commitments from brands can drive deep improvements for workers.
2. The end of systemic child labor in Uzbekistan’s cotton industry and the deep legal and institutional reforms ongoing in that country to fully end forced labor and advance the rights of workers and independent civil society – all thanks to the sustained multi-stakeholder collaboration of the Cotton Campaign, which former ILRF executive director Bama Athreya helped found, and ILRF has been honored to house ever since.
3. The founding of the Seafood Working Group, which grew out of ILRF’s 2014 Labor Rights Defenders awards when we honored the Thai-based Migrant Worker Rights Network and connected them to the US-based National Guest Workers Alliance to launch a coalition of environmental and labor rights advocates advancing protections for seafood industry workers.
4. The Fyffes’ campaign, which has sustained global pressure to end the repression of workers’ organizing rights in Honduras.
5. ILRF’s long-running Campaign to end Child Labor in Cocoa, which continues to benefit from former ILRF executive director Terry Collingsworth’s leadership and advocacy, has helped shift both government and industry efforts towards a view that living incomes are essential for ending child labor in West Africa.
I am deeply grateful to ILRF’s board, staff, and global community of supporters and activists for the opportunity to help build on the legacy created by so many. The work has been inspiring and deserves to be shared.
Thankfully, ILRF has helped me raise funds for a generous sabbatical to reflect and write on the past ten years of work. I also plan to begin a year-long writing project this fall, working with the Accountability Research Center at American University. My research and rest assured my continued advocacy will focus on how transnational coalitions and the funders supporting civil society advocacy can better lift up the leadership and priorities of local and national level advocates. I will seek out local organizers’ insights on cross-sector organizing among labor, environmental, and anti-corruption advocates and how global campaigns can help them advance economic and social rights nationally. The project is well-aligned with the ethos of partner-led programming that ILRF has worked hard to uphold for decades.
So, clearly, this is not really a departure and I very much intend to stay connected to everyone in the ILRF community. Please stay in touch. My personal contact information follows.
I hope that you and all your loved ones will stay well during these trying times. And if you are able, please join me in donating to support the new ILRF-GLJ team as they carry this work forward!
With warm regards and always in solidarity,
Judy Gearhart personal contact information:
Personal email: jag44 [at] columbia.edu
Mobile/WhatsApp: +1 646 642 1216