What U.S.-Brazil Collaboration Means for Workers

President Biden shaking hands with President Lula in front of the Brazilian flag.
President Joe Biden and President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva at the UN General Assembly, Sept. 21, 2023. White House photo.

In a win for workers in both countries, President Joe Biden and Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva announced a historic Partnership for Workers’ Rights last week at the U.N. General Assembly in New York. The initiative deepens the already strong labor ties between the two nations and promises to address five urgent challenges facing workers:

  1. safeguarding workers’ rights, including by ending worker exploitation, forced labor and child labor
  2. fostering safe and decent work by increasing accountability in public and private investments
  3. championing a worker-centric clean energy transition
  4. ensuring technology and digital transitions benefit workers
  5. tackling workplace discrimination, particularly for women, LGTBQI+ and marginalized racial and ethnic groups

Brazil and the U.S. will work collaboratively with other governments, the International Labor Organization, and union and employer partners to advance these goals around the world through joint projects and engagement at the G20 and the COP 28, COP 30 and beyond. I’m proud that the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of International Labor Affairs, or ILAB, will be at the center of this collaboration, alongside multiple U.S. interagency partners, to make progress for working people globally.

This new partnership will complement and build on our existing cooperation, including through a recently signed bilateral Memorandum of Understanding on labor cooperation. As part of the MOU, the U.S. and Brazil agreed to hold an annual dialogue, technical exchanges on labor and employment issues, and joint efforts to advance fundamental principles and rights at work in other countries. I am looking forward to traveling to Brazil in November to lead our first U.S.-Brazil Labor Dialogue under this MOU.

“Together, we can create a sustainable economy based on shared prosperity and respect for workers’ dignity and rights.” – from the United States-Brazil Partnership for Workers' Rights joint statement

Brazil is also joining us, Argentina, Canada, France, Germany, South Africa and Spain as a partner in the Multilateral Partnership for Organizing, Worker Empowerment, and Rights, or M-POWER. This groundbreaking partnership is focused on ensuring working families thrive in the global economy and elevating the role of trade unions and organized workers as essential to advancing democracy. The M-POWER initiative combines the efforts of governments, trade unions, and civil society to empower workers and strengthen workers’ rights globally.

The U.S. government announced an unprecedented commitment of $130 million in funding to support the goals of M-POWER. Through this initiative, we’re also building up opportunities for joint action and engagement around multiple areas – from highlighting efforts that collective action can make in combating gender-based violence at work to calling out violence and harassment against trade union leaders and members worldwide. We look forward to counting Brazil as an active partner in addressing these issues.

We have also cooperated with Brazil through technical assistance projects to lift up worker voice and combat exploitation. In March, we launched a project to strengthen the capacity of workers’ organizations and civil society organizations to identify labor violations and advocate on behalf of workers in cattle-raising areas of Brazil and Paraguay. In May, I had the pleasure of visiting Brazil to launch the Worker Empowerment in South America project, which seeks to improve respect for labor rights in Brazil, Colombia, and Peru by strengthening democratic, independent workers' organizations.

Also last week, we announced a major new global project with the International Labor Organization to strengthen the enabling environment for freedom of association and collective bargaining around the world through the Research, Innovation, and Strategic Engagement (RISE) to Promote Freedom of Association and Collective Bargaining Globally project. This project will support activities in and with Brazil to empower workers. We appreciate the vital role that the ILO has played in this cooperation, as well as its partnership with Brazil on South-South cooperation, and we very much look forward to building on this work.

What this all means for workers in both countries is unprecedented engagement and collaboration between our governments on issues that matter in the workplace, including support for family-sustaining wages, strong democratic trade unions, safe and healthy workplaces, and combating workplace exploitation and discrimination.

And we’re involving all stakeholders, including union partners and employers. Last week, I attended an event hosted by the International Labor Organization that brought together U.S. and Brazilian government, labor and business leaders to discuss shared priorities to promote decent work bilaterally, globally and in cooperation with the ILO. We heard directly from workers and employers about their primary concerns and will incorporate their input into future collaboration.

Governments can wield mightier outcomes when they work together – and in partnership with union partners and employers. We are committed to ensuring our U.S.-Brazil collaborations achieve real and meaningful results for workers in both countries, and around the world.

Thea Mei Lee is the deputy undersecretary for international affairs. Follow the Bureau of International Labor Affairs on X/Twitter at @ILAB_DOL and on LinkedIn.