September 25, 2003

ILR Enters Joint Agreement

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Yesterday afternoon, Industrial Labor Relations (ILR) Dean Edward Lawler signed into effect an agreement of collaboration with Jean-Pierre Laviec, director of the International Institute of Labor Studies (IILS). The agreement, referred to as a Memorandum of Understanding, seeks to strengthen and formalize a long-standing working relationship between the ILR school and the Geneva-based labor organization.

Specifically, the memorandum provides for ILR students internships at IILS offices overseas, as well as a visiting scholars program in which the institute will host ILR faculty members and a commitment to collaboration and communication between the two organizations. Through this arrangement, Cornell faculty and IILS staff hope to foster more research and teaching opportunities between the two institutions

“The [IILS] has relations with a number of academic institutions worldwide, but this is the first formal agreement,” Laviec said. “We started with Cornell because I think that Cornell is really a leading academic institution in this field.”

Cornell has a decades-old history of collaboration with the IILS and its parent organization, the International Labor Organization (ILO). Before the memorandum, Cornell regarded the relationship as somewhat tenuous because it depended on informal communication between individuals, rather than a broader institutional link. The new memorandum seeks to ensure that this relationship will continue to grow in the future by solidifying cross-institutional bonds.

“Informal contacts with the ILO actually started with the founding of our school,” said Stuart Basefsky, director of the Institute for Workplace Studies News Bureau and a key figure in the memorandum effort. “They’ve been going on for a long time but the problem is they’ve always rested on individual efforts and individual agendas.”

The ILO was created in 1919 at the Paris Peace Conference and was charged with the task of addressing inequalities in labor standards. Over the course of its history, it has drafted measures seeking to spur changes in the areas of unemployment insurance, work hours and maternity leave.

In 1946 the ILO became an agency of the United Nations. Since that time it has grown to include 176 member states, and it currently conducts research and provides assistance to members in regards to workplace safety, gender equality and migrant labor issues.

The IILS student internship program, which has already been implemented, will allow Cornell students to take part in research or educational initiatives at the IILS headquarters and under supervision from its officials.

“Student interns bring something to the ILO[;] they bring fresh outlooks, ideas and a kind of dynamism,” said Mary Covington, director of the ILO Washington office.

“It opens up not only opportunities in Geneva,” Basefsky said. “The ILO works in 176 countries and it opens up the possibility of field research for masters and Ph.D. students anywhere in the world where workplace issues are being addressed.”

The memorandum also calls for the development of a class on modern labor issues, to be taught in Geneva by either IILS staff or Cornell faculty, which will be open to Cornell students. Concrete plans for the class have yet to be formulated, but may be in place sometime next year.

The U.S. branch of the ILO is located in Washington D.C., and is primarily responsible for disseminating information gathered by the main branch to interested parties within the United States. The Washington office has worked with labor unions, the American Federation of Labor and business organizations. The office was also recently called upon by Congressional staff for information regarding trafficking of humans in Brazil. According to Covington, demand for the ILO’s services has been climbing as more free trade agreements are signed and as interest rises in developing countries.

Arrangements for the memorandum were carried out by Basefsky, as well as Prof. Sarosh Kuruvilla, collective bargaining, and Prof. Cletus Daniel, collective bargaining. The memorandum will be reviewed after two years.

Archived article by Jeff Sickelco