SECRETARY BLINKEN: Good morning, everyone.
AUDIENCE: Good morning.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: I think the quickest thing we could do is to figure out who’s actually not a union member in this room – (laughter) – because it wouldn’t take much time. It is wonderful to be with all of you today. And Kelly, thank you, thank you, thank you not just for this morning but for being such a force for workers around the world. We’re grateful. (Applause.)
To my incredible colleagues – our Acting Secretary of Labor, Secretary Su, Ambassador Tai – friends, colleagues who by their leadership and by their partnership are advancing labor rights here at home and around the world.
And I’m especially honored to be joined today by the one, the only, our speaker, Nancy Pelosi. (Applause.) But not just our speaker, a great champion – a great champion throughout her career for workers.
Now to everyone joining us here as we release the United States’ new global labor directive – welcome. And I’m very, very proud to start this day with you.
In one of the very first speeches I had the opportunity to give as Secretary, I pledged that a simple question would help set our diplomatic priorities: What will our foreign policy mean for American workers and for their families?
This is one of the core questions that we take to heart every single day as we’re thinking about what we’re doing around the world. We ask that question every day – from that windowless Situation Room, where so much of our foreign policy is made, to forums like the APEC. Workers – driving economies across the Asia-Pacific region and the world – building our infrastructure, producing and shipping our goods, caring for our loved ones, developing new industries. We know that this is what workers are doing every single day around the world. And you can see that playing out here in real time in APEC because so much of the progress that our region has made over the 30 years that APEC has been in existence has been driven by workers. And so it’s our mission to try to ensure that workers are not only included in discussions of trade and investment and growth, but they’re there at the table at the takeoff, not just on the landing.
Unfortunately, what we know – and you heard Kelly refer to this – is that in far too many places around this world, workers are not at the table. Even worse, places where working people are denied a decent living, subjected to harassment and abuse, harmed – even killed – for simply standing up for their rights.
Service workers in Cambodia. Agricultural leaders in Guatemala. Labor lawyers in Eswatini. Countless brave individuals fighting for the right to organize, to work under safe and healthy conditions, to be free from forced labor, trafficking, discrimination. And what we want all of them to know is this: The United States stands with them. (Applause.)
It’s pretty basic. We believe that every worker deserves to have their rights and dignity respected. That aligns with our deepest values. It also advances our interests, because it’s one of the most effective ways to promote broad-based, inclusive economic growth – which ultimately benefits American consumers, workers, businesses, investors. This is – we know it from our history, we know it from our experience – this is what lifts entire societies.
Just look at the positive effects of unions – something this group knows better than anyone in the world.
Unions raise wages – for their members but also for everyone else.
Unions reduce gender and pay – gender and racial pay gaps; that makes societies fairer.
Unions increase productivity, since better working conditions mean healthier and more efficient workers.
And they help strengthen our democracies, which makes for the United States much better and more reliable partners around the world.
For all these reasons, the United States Government has been taking action to promote and defend the rights of working people – both here in the United States but also around the world.
Advocating for the rights of workers and raising labor standards – that is a central part of our diplomacy; it’s a central part of our efforts at the Department of State.
So as you heard Kelly say today, President Biden signed a new Presidential Memorandum on Advancing Worker Empowerment, Rights, and High Labor Standards Globally.
And what this does is it formally recognizes that labor rights are key to our national security and to our foreign policy. This is not simply a domestic issue; it is for us a matter of national security, a matter of foreign policy. And it lays out – and I’ll address them very quickly – five lines of efforts to proactively integrate and elevate workers’ rights around the world.
First, we will engage governments, workers, labor organizations, trade unions, civil society, and the private sector around the world to protect and promote respect for internationally recognized labor rights. That means, for instance, that all of our ambassadors, all of the folks running our embassies around the world, will engage with workers, with unions so that their voices are reflected in everything that we do.
Second – (applause) – thank you. Second, we will work to hold accountable those who threaten, who intimidate, who attack union leaders, labor rights defenders, labor organizations – including using things like sanctions, trade penalties, visa restrictions – all the tools in our kit. We want to be there for people like Kalpona Atker, a Bangladeshi garment worker and activist, who says that she is alive today because the U.S. embassy advocated on her behalf. When we use our voice, when we use our advocacy around the world, we can make a concrete difference in making sure that those who are trying to advance labor rights are protected and defended.
Third, we will strengthen the federal government’s capacity to advance worker rights abroad by prioritizing greater job opportunities for employees with labor expertise, training our personnel to know about worker rights, to look for and prevent abuses.
Fourth, we will work with governments and multilateral institutions like the United Nations, with the G20, to promote labor rights and standards. This will be part of the work that we do in these international organizations, where so many of the rules are set. It happens in windowless rooms around the world, but it’s important – the standards, the norms, the rights that are established. These have a profound effect around the world. We’re going to be in there making sure that we’re advocating for labor.
Finally, we will step up our due diligence and enforcement to ensure that our own trade agreements, supply chains, protect workers, and that we’re not importing goods made with forced labor. (Applause.)
This is a real, concrete step toward delivering on a foreign policy that works for all of the American people. We’ll continue looking to each of you, to your colleagues in the labor movement, for your engagement, for your feedback, for your partnership. Because, simply put, we can’t do this effectively alone. Everyone knows the power in joining together to improve the lives of working people.
So with that said, it’s a great pleasure to turn this over to one of those key partners – Secretary-Treasurer of the San Francisco Building Trades Council, a member of the USMCA Independent Mexico Labor Expert Board – Rudy González. (Applause.)