Highlights from ILRF's 30-Year History

  • ILRF founded by a coalition that secured the first labor rights clause in a preferential trade program, the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP).
  • Published Trade’s Hidden Cost: Worker Rights in a Changing World Economy, by John Cavanagh, Lance Compa, Allan Ebert, Bill Goold, Kathy Selvaggio, and Tim Shorrock.
  • Formed the Alliance for Responsible Trade with allies in the U.S., Mexico, and Canada to demand transparency and advocate for labor rights provisions in NAFTA.
  • Published The Mask of Democracy: Labor Suppression in Mexico Today, by Dan LaBotz, exposing how established unions hindered worker organizing.
  • Filed a successful GSP complaint against Chile’s repression of labor rights.
  • Advocated successfully for Sanders-Frank Amendment, requiring U.S. to demand labor rights considerations in World Bank and IMF Programs.
  • Published Trading Away the Future, exposing child labor in India’s export processing.
  • Exposed child labor in the Bangladesh apparel industry, resulting in a tripartite compact to move children into schools.
  • Filed first human rights case under the Alien Tort Statute, John Doe I v. Unocal Corp. This launched a new major tool for corporate accountability in the global economy. Numerous other cases have since been filed based on this model.
  • Launched Foul Ball campaign, leading to an ILO-Save the Children-UNICEF initiative to create stitching centers and end home-based soccer ball production in Pakistan.
  • Helped to found RugMark (now GoodWeave International), a nonprofit that has reduced child labor in the South Asian carpet industry by 80% and directly rescued nearly 4,000 children. 

  • Spearheaded successful campaign to amend the U.S. Tariff Act to ban the import of goods made with forced labor.
  • Campaigned against pregnancy testing in Mexico and Central America.


  • Worked with Kailash Satyarthi (2014 Nobel Peace Prize Recipient) to organize the Global March Against Child Labor, engaging 7 million people in a march across 103 countries, pressing for ILO Convention 182 on the Worst Forms of Child Labor.
  • Joined White House initiative on transparency in the apparel industry, the Apparel Industry Partnership.
  • Filed a successful GSP complaint against Thailand, leading to labor law reforms, including a significant reduction in the permissible number of overtime hours.
  • Launched Rights for Working Women Campaign to end workplace sexual harassment and other oppressive labor conditions that disproportionately impact women.
  • Formed the China Program to train and foster a new generation of skilled labor law practitioners and provide support for workers’ legal claims.
  • Initiated the Fairness in Flowers Campaign to promote the occupational health and safety and labor rights of workers in the cut flower industries of Colombia and Ecuador.
  • Reached a landmark settlement with Unocal for its role in forcing Burmese villagers to work on constructing a gas pipeline, the first successful Alien Tort Statute case against a U.S. corporation for complicity in human rights violations overseas.
  • Released Stolen Childhoods, the first feature-length documentary on global child labor.
  • Conducted 5 field studies on gender-based violence at work documented by ILRF grassroots partners in Kenya, Thailand, Mexico, Ecuador, and the Dominican Republic.
  • Produced Sexual Harassment, A Maquila Reality, a documentary exploring women workers’ experiences with workplace sexual violence in Mexico’s maquila sector.
  • Spun off ILRF’s litigation practice as International Rights Advocates (IRAdvocates), which continues to seek reparations for workers.
  • Co-founded the Cotton Campaign, a global coalition of human rights, labor, investor and business organizations dedicated to ending forced labor in the cotton sector, starting with the state-led forced labor system in Uzbekistan.
  • Mobilized activists to support Liberian workers in winning their first democratically negotiated collective bargaining agreement with Firestone.
  • Co-founded the Food Chain Workers Alliance, a coalition of worker-based organizations advocating for improved wages and working conditions for all workers along the food chain.
  • Supported union workers in their fight to bring Dole Philippines into compliance with international labor standards and secured an ILO high-level mission to the Philippines to investigate intimidation by the armed forces.
  • ILRF merged with SweatFree Communities and helped found the Sweatfree Purchasing Consortium to incorporate labor rights into city and state procurement policies. 
  • Exposed backsliding in labor rights protections within Pakistan’s soccer ball industry.
  • Organized hundreds of screenings of the Dark Side of Chocolate as part of the “Raise the Bar, Hershey” campaign, eventually presenting Hershey’s with 100,000 signatures. 
  • Supported trade union negotiations and became a witness signatory to the transparent and legally-binding Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety, which has since been signed by over 200 global brands.
  • Partnered with Teamsters to expose Whole Foods support for union busting (at UNFI) and child labor cocoa, winning ILRF’s Hershey’s campaign and advancing the union drive.
  • U.S. Labor Education in the Americas Project (USLEAP) became a program of ILRF.
  • Launched the Seafood Working Group, a coalition dedicated to improving working conditions in Thailand’s seafood industry that has grown to include more than 30 environmental, labor and human rights organizations from 10 countries.
  • Led Cotton Campaign advocacy to pressure Uzbekistan to end the use of forced child labor, the first time that Uzbekistan stopped forcing all children to pick cotton.  
  • Facilitated collaboration between the Tobacco and Allied Workers Union of Malawi and the Farm Labor Organizing Committee on transnational tobacco campaigns, now part of a platform for multinational tobacco union engagement via the International Union of Food and Agriculture Workers Federation.
  • Led a coalition of 26 NGOs in drafting the “Fair Labor Principles” in palm oil production, significantly raising the bar for labor standards in a growing global industry. 
  • Filed a Free Trade Agreement complaint with Peruvian unions against Peruvian laws permitting abusive, short-term contracts in export industries. 
  • Pressured apparel brands to fully fund a $30 million dollar compensation fund for garment workers affected by the Rana Plaza building collapse.
  • Worked with Congressional allies to introduce identical House and Senate resolutions in support of the right of women workers in developing countries to be free from harassment, violence, and intimidation. 
  • Celebrated 30 years of fighting for dignity and justice for workers worldwide.