By Kanako Ida
His work is visiting factories and farms in Asia, South America, and Africa where multi-national companies have set up. He has been cooperating with local NGOs and lawyers to change bad working conditions in which people are forced to work for long hours and children are forced to work without going to schools.
As the executive director of the International Labor Rights Fund, a U.S. based NGO, Collingsworth filed a lawsuit in the U.S. court for the first time charging forced labor during the construction of a pipeline in Myanmar, which was jointly planned by Myanmar’s military government and Unocal, an American Oil company. Last year, the international community paid attention to the case because the company paid a settlement to 14 plaintiffs. That meant that the company admitted moral responsibility for what happened at the work site.
What he cited as a basis for bringing what had happened in Myanmar to the U.S. court was the Alien Tort Claims Act, which was enacted 217 years ago, soon after the founding of the U.S. Originally, the Act was aimed at coping with piracy outside of the U.S. territory and, although valid, the Act is rarely used. The court decided that the case could be tried in the U.S. as long as the defendant was doing business in the U.S., even though the case itself happened outside the territory of the U.S.
It is sometimes difficult to solve labor issues in developing countries due to ineffective or weak governments or because of the strong ties between multi nationals and local governments. Mr. Collingsworth said, “I hope the outcome of the trial will let other multinational companies know that they should be brought to account for what they do in developing countries.”
In 1970’, He worked as a crane driver for five years the same metal factory where his father had worked for 41 years. This experience opened his eyes to labor issues and after saving the money for law school, Collingsworth decided to become an attorney to gain the expertise needed to solve labor issues.
He came to Japan to see how the concept of corporate social responsibility is applied in Japan. He reminded the audience at his lecture, “Japan and the U.S. are both huge consuming counties. Try to think about the background or issues of what you are buying.”