Human rights and worker strategies

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Clients and collaborators

We work with the following organizations and networks to develop model policies for governments and institutions.

  • International Corporate Accountability Roundtable consists of 27 organizations including a steering committee of Amnesty International, EarthRights International, Global Witness, Human Rights First, and Human Rights Watch.  We work with ICAR on U.S. procurement reform and the International Learning Lab on Procurement and Human Rights.

  • International Learning Lab on Public Procurement and Human Rights organizes collaborative research, workshops, and webinars among diverse organizations in government and civil society.  Participants come from Europe, North America, South America, Africa, and Southeast Asia.  Learning Lab leaders include ICAR; the Harrison Institute; the Danish Institute for Human Rights; the Public Procurement Research Group at the University of Nottingham; and the Business, Human Rights and Environment Research Group at the University of Greenwich.

  • Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor promotes innovations in policy to promote broadly shared economic justice and respect for the dignity of labor.  The Initiative unites Georgetown’s faculties in law, history, business, and foreign service.

Projects on human rights and worker strategies

Sweatshop girlsProcurement and human rights  In 2012, the insignia of U.S. military services were found in the rubble of factory fires that killed thousands of apparel workers in Bangladesh.  Apparel is one of several sectors—also including electronics, food, and logistics—in which suppliers run a high risk of human rights abuses.  Contractors tied to the deaths in Bangladesh said they had no idea they were sourcing from these factories.  The Harrison Institute responded by leading ICAR’s effort to publish Turning a Blind Eye, which identified 13 gaps in federal human right policy for procurement.  Measures are in place to combat human trafficking and forced child labor.  Yet agencies are still blind to other abuses—like life-threatening conditions, illegal child labor and wage theft—when they purchase from global supply chains.  Our work in 2015 showed that Executive Branch agencies have the authority to expand supply chain transparency. In 2016, we partnered with ICAR and the Danish Institute of Human Rights to create the International Learning Lab on Procurement and Human Rights.  In 2017, we prepared two transparency tools—a step-by-step policy menu and a guide to procurement research and risk assessment. We are now developing risk profiles of seven U.S. government agencies.  Our future work will continue to focus on transparency as the key to accountability for human rights in procurement.

Procurement without sweatshops –  Following the lead of universities, a growing number of state and local governments seek to avoid purchasing apparel (e.g., uniforms for police and athletics) that is made in sweatshops.  In 2012, we worked with the Sweatfree Purchasing Consortium (16 cities and states) to develop model purchasing policy for cities and states to set standards that reward decent working conditions in the apparel sector (e.g., purchasing police uniforms).  The model policy enables a government to evaluate a supplier’s capacity to manage its own supply chain, comply with workplace laws in the country of production, and honor core labor standards of the International Labor Organization.  Recent work:

Just employment policy for universities – Georgetown University became a leader within the network of Jesuit universities when it adopted a Just Employment Policy, which commits the university to pay a living wage, provide a dignified workplace, and respect the right to organize unions.  In 2013, Pope Francis stressed that a living wage is a foundation of human dignity and a central tenet of Catholic teaching.  The Harrison Institute worked with the Kalmanovitz Initiative to develop a model JEP and a policy guide to assist both students and administrators as they seek to elevate the status of low-wage workers in a climate of intense budget pressures.

Immokalee WorkerAlternative worker strategies – The labor movement in the United States is entering a period of both significant challenges and significant opportunities.  The percentage of American workers in unions fell to 11.3% last year – the lowest level of union membership in almost 100 years.  A recent court decision has called into question the continued viability of the National Labor Relations Board, and strategic litigation by employers has chilled efforts to organize workers.  Yet despite these obstacles, there has also been a proliferation of new approaches to labor advocacy, ranging from worker centers that provide services to immigrants and other marginalized workers to internet based advocacy campaigns.  The Harrison Institute has worked with the Kalmanovitz Initiative to map the legal environment for these new worker strategies.  For example, we have analyzed the implications of recent Supreme Court decisions on the First Amendment for labor advocacy and analyzing the protections provided under the National Labor Relations Act for “concerted activity” by both unionized and non-unionized workers. 


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