I start my day in Managua, at the Free Trade Zone Commission meeting with General Alvaro Baltodano, presidential delegate for investment promotion. He’s an advocate for Better Work, a model implemented by the International Labor Organization (ILO) and the International Finance Corporation (IFC) to assist enterprises in improving labor practices in the textile industry based on internationally-recognized core labor standards and existing national labor law. The program aims to improve both compliance with labor standards and competitiveness in global supply chains. Nicaragua is set to become the first country in Latin America to adopt Better Work.
We discuss how this new program will help Nicaragua become a key player in the global economy, and a regional pioneer in taking worker rights promotion to the next level. Better Work is about providing transparent monitoring of labor conditions in the textile factories, so multinational brands can choose which factories to place their orders based on their respect to labor rights. I remind him and others at the meeting that in order for Better Work to be successful as it has been in other countries – including Cambodia and Jordan – all factories must participate. I leave the meeting feeling very optimistic.
Later, I travel to the presidential palace to meet with Nicaragua’s President Daniel Ortega and First Lady Rosario Murillo. Top on the agenda: economic development and social protection. We have a lengthy discussion on the economic situation in our countries, and how the economic crisis has affected working families and the job market. I’m pleased to hear his support for our efforts, as creating better and more jobs and combating child labor are issues of great sensitivity to both Nicaragua and the United States. He also says that his government is willing to work with the United States on our programs, both the ongoing child labor project and the new Better Work. He also supports our new initiative to protect the labor rights of Central American immigrants working in the United States.
And then he surprises me by telling the assembled audience: “I am happy and honored that a woman with Nicaraguan roots has such a high ranking position in President Obama’s administration.” I know my mother is very proud.
But the day is not over yet! I also meet with Nicaraguan labor union leaders and representatives of multinational companies based in Nicaragua, including Wal-Mart, Levi Strauss and Gap. They are all gathered in Nicaragua to support the announcement of Better Work. Some of them have seen the program making a difference in other countries. Some other brands are new to this initiative, but are still supportive and enthusiastic. I tell the business leaders that good business and good labor practices can go hand-in-hand. Better Work is a robust strategy that will support good labor practices in a sector – the export textile – that is at the heart of the Nicaraguan economy. That will result in better and more jobs. (Continued in Part 3)
- Part 1 – Monday, July 26: Jinotega, Nicaragua
- Part 2 – Tuesday, July 27: Managua, Nicaragua
- Part 3 – Wednesday, July 28: Managua, Nicaragua
- Part 4 – Thursday, July 29: San Salvador, El Salvador