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Fellowship Report (2004)

Fellow: Eric Gottwald
Fellowship Site: International Labour Organization- Geneva, Switzerland

Brief History of Organization (founding and salient steps):

The International Labour Organization is the UN specialized agency which seeks the promotion of social justice and internationally recognized human and labour rights. It was founded in 1919 (along with the League of Nations) and became the first specialized agency of the UN in 1946.

Departments/Programs in the Organization:

Employment Sector- Multinational Enterprises Programme (MULTI). MULTI is relatively small program within the ILO (5 full time staff) responsible for promoting the Tripartite Declaration of Principles concerning Multinational Enterprises and Social Policy (MNE Declaration). The MNE Declaration is one of the major instruments of corporate social responsibility designed to realize the potential benefits of foreign direct investment by multinational enterprises in developing nations. It is unique in that it is the only major instrument of CSR that is based on the ILO’s universal principles and standards and is the result of a global consensus of employers, workers and governments.

Responsibilities/Duties/Tasks undertaken by the Fellow:

Assist in preparing for the upcoming ILO sub-regional conference (scheduled for early 2005) on the labor and employment challenges of foreign direct investment (FDI) by MNEs in the Southern African Development Community (SADC). In particular, help to research and write the background paper for the conference highlighting relevant employment and labor practices of multinationals operating in the SADC region.


Researched and wrote draft section on FDI levels and trends in the Southern African Development Community. Prepared briefing materials on industrial relations problems, trends, and challenges in the SADC region.

Conferences Attended:

2004 International Labour Conference at ILO Headquarters and UN Palais in Geneva.

Other projects/works started or completed:

Negotiated the terms of a purchase of FDI data by sector in the SADC region from a South African firm.

How has this fellowship changed the ideas and expectations you had before leaving?

Going into the internship I had a healthy degree of skepticism about the value and ultimate purpose of the corporate social responsibility movement. Call it a vague, but visceral, sense that lurking behind the lofty language of multinationals’ CSR initiatives was a desire obtain the public relations benefits of a code of conduct without having to make any changes that affect the bottom line.

I was pleasantly surprised, then, to find that the MNE Declaration (the ILO corporate code of conduct MULTI is charged with promoting) contained reasonably specific, concrete principles covering subjects for employee training to industrial relations for multinationals (MNEs) operating in the global economy. For example, paragraph 53 states clearly that MNEs should not use the threat of relocation to extract concessions from unions during collective bargaining, a problem well documented even here at home. Paragraph 20 states that MNEs should, in order to promote employment growth in developing countries, contract with local or national companies for inputs as much as possible.

Of course, the ultimate success of any set of principles is measured by its impact in the real economy. Publicity is the first step and here is where MULTI and the ILO have a lot of work to do. Every few years, MULTI conducts a survey of governments, unions, and employer organizations around the globe to measure compliance with the MNE Declaration. As part of my research on Southern Africa, I read through the comments of SADC-region respondents to the 7th Survey (completed in 2000). Many unions and employers reported that general awareness of the MNE Declaration principles in the region was low. Other arguably less rigorous instruments of CSR (e.g. the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises) seem to have more name recognition. Some of this is due to publicity, which made working on the upcoming MULTI conference in SADC a relevant, rewarding task.

On a broader note, the fellowship gave me invaluable insight into how the ILO works. The ILO operates on a “tripartite” model of consultation and consensus among three social groups: employers, workers, and governments. The idea is to create “social dialogue” among the three groups to achieve some consensus in creating labor standards and strategies to implement them. From what I observed, there are a couple of main benefits of this model and also a few drawbacks.

The ILO model of tripartite consensus does provide a real sense of legitimacy to its creation of international labor standards- not a small thing when you are charged with establishing “universal” labor standards to be applied around the globe. Including employer and worker representatives also has useful moderating effect- it keeps proposals from getting too far away from the reality of actual industrial relations in any given industry.

At the same time, including worker and employer representatives in every decision creates a major challenge for the organization in formulating clear positions to emerging issues. For example, many – if not the majority - of the world’s population works in the informal economy- domestic work, subsistence agriculture, etc – where normal industrial relations simply do not exist. While many international NGO’s have taken up the challenge of improving their conditions of work, the ILO has been slower to respond because these workers are not represented by unions or other formal worker organizations.

How has your motivation for human rights work changed/altered or remained the same?

After this internship my interest in human rights is more focused on labor rights and industrial relations in developing nations. Also, it broadened my perspective on what types of jobs can really have an impact on labor rights. For example, human resource managers at large and small companies are in a position to promote human rights by working with labor to design a safer and more efficient workplace.

Who had the greatest effect on you during your fellowship experience and why?

I’d have to say my supervisor, Michael Urminsky. Despite having 1-2 other interns to juggle and plenty of his own work, he kept an open door and was willing to share his considerable experience and knowledge on corporate social responsibility initiatives. He was also refreshingly candid about the strengths and weaknesses of the ILO as an institution and the MNE Declaration as an instrument of corporate social responsibility. Lastly, he made a real effort to introduce me to friends and colleagues at the ILO, helping to make a large institution a little smaller.

How did your perspectives on the world change from interning at a local/national/ international human rights organization?

Working at the ILO heightened my awareness of the common human and labor rights challenges workers face around the globe. It was refreshing to see so many talented people from all over the world coming together to discuss, research, and implement new ideas on how to promote social justice in the global economy.

After completion of your fellowship, how do you anticipate bringing your fellowship experience back home to your local community?

During the spring semester, I’ll be part of a small group of students starting the new Workers’ Rights Clinic at the Law School. As part of our outreach effort, we hope to assist migrant workers in the twin cities area assert their human and labor rights in the workplace without fear of reprisal.

Organizational Profile

Full Name of Organization: International Labour Organization Multinational Enterprises Programme

Abbreviation and initials commonly used: ILO-MULTI

Organizational Address:
International Labour Office
4, route de Morillions
CH- 1211 Geneve 22
Geneva, Switzerland

Telephone number: 22-799-6111

Fax number: 22-798-8685

Email address:

Names of Executive Director and Senior Staff:

MULTI Director- Hans Hofmeijer

MULTI Technical Specialist- Michael Urminsky

Number of Employed Staff (full-time; part-time):


Number of Volunteers:


Objectives of the Organization:

Promote, monitor, and assist in the implementation of the Tripartite Declaration of Principles concerning Multinational Enterprises and Social Policy (MNE Declaration).

Domestic/International Programs:

All staff are located at ILO HQ in Geneva, but staff travel frequently to promote the MNE declaration’s principles and assist in its implementation.

Date of Information: 9/01/04

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