Human Rights at Work - Lee Swepston©

11 August 2010  

"To reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small...."

Charter of the United Nations, June 1945, preamble


Contact and Curriculum Vitae



Indigenous & Tribal Peoples

Equality in the Workplace

Protection of children

Lee Swepston

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Thirty-five years' involvement with the International Labour Organization has provided me with a unique opportunity of seeing how the concept of human rights is applied to workers around the world.

Swep in the mountains

A lifetime's involvement with human rights connected to work, and in particular as the ILO's Senior Adviser on Human Rights, has meant close experience with decent work, children's rights, indigenous and tribal peoples, non-discrimination, abolition of forced labour and freedom of association. Human rights reporting and supervision, at the ILO and the UN, has been a constant concern and I believe it is the foundation of the rule of law and an increasing world commitment to rights.

Since I retired from the ILO in 2007 I have been doing an increasing amount of teaching. I created and am responsible for teaching a Masters Degree in International Human Rights and International Labour Law at the Raoul Wallenberg Institute, University of Lund, Sweden. I have given, or shortly will give, shorter courses in international labour law at the University of Toronto, York University (Toronto), the University of Tillburg (Holland), the International Institute of Human Rights (Strasbourg) and others. International labour law is absent from most human rights curricula, and I am dedicated to changing this.

The writings included here have been done for various publications, meetings and papers. They reflect some of the areas in which I have been working and thinking, and from time to time they will be changed or additions made. I was chief of the ILO's Equality Branch from 1993 to 2004, and the ILO's Human Rights Coordinator since 1991. In 2004 I became Director of the Department of Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work, and Senior Adviser on Human Rights, before retiring in 2007. Being responsible for relations with the rest of the international system on human rights matters has allowed me to compare the ILO's work with that of many other organizations.

When I joined the ILO in 1973, one of the files I was assigned was the Indigenous and Tribal Populations Convention, then moribund, but since then the subject has become central to international law and development assistance. For five years from the early 1980s I was the Regional Adviser on International Labour Standards in English-speaking Africa, providing a solid reality check for the more theoretical concerns I had otherwise had. And through it all, I have remained deeply involved in the ILO's unique supervisory system, along the way having been responsible at times for the ILO's work on forced labour and child labour. I hope the attached pages will help present some idea of the ILO's rich background in protecting human rights, and on my own thinking on how the ILO and the international community should deal with some of the problems now before us all.

This page is maintained by Paula Swepston©
Last modified on 11 August 2010
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