2007 ILRF Annual Report

Publication Date: 

August 1, 2008

A note from the Director:

The year 2007 may have marked a turning point in the struggle to end child labor around the world.

We at ILRF have been fighting to raise awareness of, and promote solutions to, the terrible problem of child labor since the day we opened our doors, over twenty years ago. Important progress was made in the late 1990s, when we led the Global March Against Child Labor to the doors of the International Labor Organization, convinced the ILO to adopt a new convention against the Worst Forms of Child Labor, and successfully pushed the US government to be an early ratifier of that new Convention. Yet progress since that moment in 1998 has been slow. The ILO estimates that 211 million children around the world continue to work in conditions that jeopardize their health, education and welfare.

Yet we saw notable attention and progress to issues in our work to highlight forced and child labor throughout the year 2007, and media attention to this issue has reached a new high. A lengthy investigative report by Bloomberg News in December 2006 on forced labor in pig iron production in Brazil galvanized attention to this issue, and our Firestone campaign on child labor in rubber production received notable media coverage throughout the year, beginning in January 2007 when Firestone was given a Public Eye Award for Worst Global Corporation opposite the World Economic Forum in Davos. Later in the year, a BBC exposé of forced child labor in cotton production in Uzbekistan spurred global garment brands and retailers to take responsibility for forced labor in their cotton supply.

We ended the year 2007 on a true high note, celebrating the unprecedented victory by the Firestone Agricultural Workers’ Union of Liberia (FAWUL), which in December 2007 won legal recognition as the first-ever independent workers’ union on the world’s largest rubber plantation. This victory reminded us that the true opposite of enslavement is not freedom, but empowerment. Individual freedom in a context of systemic economic repression has little practical meaning; worker and community empowerment to bargain better economic conditions, and a real future for workers and their families, is the only real and sustainable way forward out of modern-day slavery.

As FAWUL begins its negotiations with the company in 2008, we look forward to supporting its efforts to eradicate forced child labor on the plantation through the establishment of a fair deal and living wage that will finally enable the plantation’s adult workers to support their families.

And what about the litigation? Many of ILRF’s longstanding friends and supporters will look through the pages of this year’s annual report and note the absence of updates on the important human rights litigation we have launched in recent years against Coca Cola, Drummond Mines, ExxonMobil and other major multinational corporations. As many of our supporters know, we experienced a dramatic organizational change in 2007, as in the beginning of the year we witnessed the launch of International Rights Advocates, a new sister organization dedicated solely to continuing this litigation work to hold corporations accountable for human rights abuses around the world. Terry Collingsworth left ILRF to spearhead this new effort, and we look forward to a warm relationship with Terry and his team of lawyers, even as ILRF continues its own important work through public education, campaigns, and policy advocacy to develop innovative new means to hold corporations accountable for workers’ rights violations.

We look forward with great enthusiasm to continuing this progress in 2008!

In Solidarity,

Bama Athreya

Executive Director