Over the past eight years, even as the U.S. signed a number of new bilateral trade pacts, the U.S. government actually decreased its capacity for promoting strong labor standards and enforcing the labor provisions of trade agreements. The Bush Administration sought to slash funding for the Bureau of International Labor Affairs (ILAB) at the U.S. Department of Labor and, though it wasn't entirely successful in this effort, it still managed to significantly downsize the agency.

The new administration and Congress should move quickly to revitalize ILAB as part of a major new effort to promote higher labor standards around the world and enforce worker rights provisions in existing trade agreements.

This brief provides background on labor standards and recent U.S. trade agreements, examines the new opportunities that exist to raise labor standards, looks at the historic role of ILAB, and offers recommendations for ensuring that the U.S. has the capacity to be a global leader in guaranteeing worker rights.