Our Year Advancing Labor Rights

President Biden stands at a podium with Brazilian President Lula and ILO Director-General Houngbo by his side, the words "Partnership for Workers' Rights" written in English and in Portuguese above him.
President Joe Biden announces the U.S.-Brazil Partnership for Workers' Rights in September with Brazil President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and ILO Director-General Gilbert Houngbo.

With a stellar team and exceptional partners, the department’s Bureau of International Labor Affairs achieved significant milestones this year. We deepened our global impact and strengthened U.S. government coordination on global workers’ rights, extended support to migrant workers, and secured stronger worker protections for thousands. Here are some of the highlights from the year:


Thea Lee standing in a group with Secretary of State Blinken and USAID Administrator Power in an opulent room.

I participated in the launch of the inaugural U.S. Global Women’s Economic Security Strategy, spotlighting our gender-focused approach to advancing labor rights and our commitment to creating a safer and more equitable world of work for women around the globe.


Standing outside at sunset, a worker points to a painted picture of farmland being held up by two colleagues.

We announced a $2.5 million award to the Fair Food Standards Council to pilot the Fair Food Program in Chile, Mexico and South Africa, targeting labor rights violations on cut flower farms. The expansion aims to replicate elements of the program's successful U.S. model in other countries.


A worker grabs a blue basket full of fish on a dock.

Ending forced labor in global seafood supply chains is one of our priorities, which is why we attended the Seafood Expo North America, where we called on the seafood industry to improve labor rights through fair recruitment processes, strong social compliance systems, and promoting and respecting worker voice.


People mill around the wreckage of a collapsed building.

We marked the 10th anniversary of Bangladesh’s Rana Plaza garment factory collapse with a renewed call for global action to enhance workers’ rights, guarantee safe working environments, and ensure governments and companies uphold their duty to protect these rights. While steps have been taken to improve worker safety in the country, there is much more to be done.


Guatemalan flag flies in the blue sky.

Our labor attaché program expanded to Guatemala, elevating our global impact with ten attachés in six countries. And, in a monumental first, Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) senior officials unanimously endorsed promoting social dialogue and other Detroit Principles we negotiated as a policy tool for APEC.


Thea Lee in a group photo with several other women and men standing outside

We led a delegation of senior women officials from four U.S. government agencies to Central America to hear from workers about challenges in the workplace faced by women and LGBTQI+ individuals. Meanwhile, at the International Labor Conference in Geneva, we negotiated a new international standard on apprenticeship.


Several workers raise their fists in the entrance to a workplace indoors.

Using the Rapid Response Mechanism of the US-Mexico-Canada trade agreement, ILAB, the U.S. Trade Representative and the Mexican government negotiated a course of remediation for illegally underpaid auto sector workers resulting in $4 million in back pay for 1,300 workers.


A young woman working at a fruit stand, advertising prices for apples and oranges.

MigrantWorker.gov/TrabajadorMigrante.gov went live! The platform features information about workers’ rights, fair recruitment practices, and working conditions. It empowers migrants and their advocates with knowledge and tools for safer and more informed work experiences in the U.S.


Thea Lee and Special Representative for International Labor Affairs Kelly Fay Rodriguez stand in front of the stage that reads, "Partnership for Workers' Rights," flanked by the U.S. and Brazilian flag.

In New York City, I joined President Biden and Brazilian President Lula for the launch of the U.S.-Brazil Partnership for Workers’ Rights. Back in D.C., we released the 2022 Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor. ILAB also launched a new interactive web format for Comply Chain, an eight-step guide to equipping businesses of all sizes to tackle child labor and forced labor through its worker-driven social compliance system. We also updated our Better Trade Tool.


A group of 11 South African and U.S. officials posing on a rooftop overlooking the U.S. Capitol.

We joined Mexico's Secretary of Labor and Social Welfare for the launch of the ILAB-supported 2022 Mexican National Child Labor Survey, which measured the prevalence of child labor nationwide. At department headquarters, our team hosted a delegation from the South Africa Department of Employment and Labor (shown above) to advance cooperation on occupational safety and health, workers’ compensation and benefits, and public employment services.


Julie Su standing at a podium with the U.S. flag behind her.

Acting Secretary of Labor Julie Su welcomed the release of the Presidential Memorandum outlining the Global Labor Strategy. It centers workers' rights in U.S. trade and foreign policy and underscores the administration's commitment to amplifying workers' voices and power.


Thea Lee sitting with a microphone on stage in a panel with five other people, the words "U.S. Center" illuminated on a panel behind her.

For the first time, the U.S. Department of Labor participated in COP28, the United Nations Climate Change Conference, where we advocated for a just transition to a green economy, centering workers in how climate policies are shaped and implemented, and creating decent work opportunities for those most impacted by climate change.

These were just a sampling of what we accomplished in 2023, a banner year in our efforts to advance global labor rights. We’re fired up to build upon these successes in the coming year, so stay tuned.


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.