Blog | Global Worker Rights

Labor Activist Leaves Legacy of Strengthening Global Worker Rights

Stephen Coats, executive director of the U.S. Labor Education in the Americas Project (USLEAP) and a longtime global worker rights activist, died yesterday morning in his sleep. In 1987, Coats founded the U.S./Guatemala Labor Education Project, which later became USLEAP.

For more than 20 years Coats was a leading advocate for workers and a great partner and ally for unions and working families. He pioneered some of the earliest campaign strategies to improve workers’ rights in the apparel, cut flowers and banana industries in Central America, Ecuador and Colombia. He challenged the idea that trade could be fair if it did not include enforceable rights for all workers throughout the supply chain. His advocacy led to concrete improvements in the lives of thousands of workers, including many who worked under terrible sweatshop conditions.

Coats played a key role in convening a wide array of stakeholders to strengthen worker's rights. He helped to build effective relationships between Latin American unions, U.S. unions, global union federations, NGOs, companies and shareholder and consumer advocates, resulting in groundbreaking agreements to protect workers’ rights throughout the region.

Coats advocated for including enforceable labor rights in trade agreements, which led to real gains for workers throughout the Americas. From 2006 to 2007 he wrote a report on workers’ rights in Colombia that was released by the AFL-CIO. His work documented the ongoing violence in the country and provided the basis for a strong critique of the proposed Colombia trade agreement.

Coats' commitment to workers’ rights resulted in the improvement in the lives of many workers. The AFL-CIO honors the many lasting contributions Coats made to our movement. He will truly be missed.

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