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Public Interest Law Project

Julia Williams

October 10, 2011

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International Labor Rights Fund

PILP afforded me with the opportunity to spend the summer in Washington DC working at the International Labor Rights Fund (ILRF), a nonprofit legal and advocacy organization dedicated to promoting the enforcement of workers rights in the global economy. ILRF’s core mission is to achieve just and humane treatment for workers worldwide through collaboration with labor and other non-governmental organizations both domestically and internationally.

ILRF promotes these objections legally by bringing lawsuits against U.S. multinational corporations for egregious human rights violations of international law under a fairly obscure area of law, the Alien Tort Claims Act (ATCA) and Torture Victims Protection Act (TVPA). Although the ATCA has been around for centuries, it has only been use for its current purposes since the 1980s. Thus, ATCA litigation is still a rapidly changing and progressive area of international law. Since ILRF is also a social advocacy organization, the lawsuits they bring are carefully calculated to correspond with political and social campaigns that range from lobbying Congress on the merits of pending legislation (such as CAFTA), to orchestrating anti-sweatshop and other campaigns on various college campuses across the country.

The biggest hurdles ILRF faces in bringing cases are procedural and jurisdictional, so I spent a lot of time reviewing and researching civil procedure issues, which will serve as valuable knowledge for any type of litigation. I also got to work on several appellate briefs, and an amicus brief addressing separation of powers issues defining the limits of ATCA litigation, which was a very interesting and creative project. Finally, I had the chance to interview potential plaintiffs for a new suit ILRF was preparing to bring.

Working at a nonprofit such as ILRF was a very rewarding experience that reminded me that there is room for creativity in legal work, and that the law can be an effective tool of social change. I appreciated the chance to understand how the law can be used in the larger context alongside social and political advocacy to achieve social change. Although the problems ILRF seeks to confront are daunting and they face disproportionately large and powerful opponents, ILRF has been extremely effective in demanding corporate accountability and forcing corporations to change the way international business is done and to start factoring human costs into their bottom line. Working a small group of attorneys so passionate about their ideals and dedicated to improving the lives of others was also an inspiring experience, and I feel fortunate to have met such great mentors. Finally, I can’t overemphasize what a great feeling it was to know the work I was doing was helping to substantially improve the lives of workers abroad.

Thanks PILP for making this wonderful and rewarding experience possible!

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