NEW YORK, Sept 20 – U.S. President Joe Biden and Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, underscoring their shared commitment to shoring up democracy, launched an initiative on Wednesday to advance the rights of working people, a key focus for both leaders.
Biden and Lula, speaking before a bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the high-level United Nations General Assembly, highlighted the importance of decent jobs, good wages and ensuring that workers benefit from the digital and green energy transitions underway broadly in society.
“The two largest democracies in the Western Hemisphere are standing up for human rights around the world and the hemisphere, and that includes workers’ rights,” Biden told Lula.
“Let me be clear, whether it’s the autoworkers union or any other union worker, record corporation profits should mean record contracts for union workers,” Biden said at a separate event launching the new initiative.
His comments came on the sixth day of a strike by 12,700 United Auto Workers members against Ford (F.N), General Motors (GM.N) and Chrysler parent Stellantis (STLAM.MI), who are demanding better pay and benefits.
Biden said the U.S.-Brazil Partnership for Workers’ Rights will start as a bilateral initiative, but that other nations and organizations were welcome to join.
Lula, warning that democracies were under threat around the world, said it was critical to shore up workers’ rights, and said the new initiative would help “arouse hope” for working families while deepening ties between the two countries.
“It’s more than just another bilateral. It’s a faith relationship that we are building here and a new era for U.S.-Brazilian relations amongst equal partners,” he said, adding, “poverty and inequality is not in the interest of anybody.”
Biden and Lula traded personal stories about the importance of decent jobs at the start of their second in-person meeting. Lula – who noted that his education consisted solely of vocational training and that he had worked 27 years in a factory – said his labor minister met with striking workers on Tuesday.
“There’s no democracy without strong trade unions,” Lula said at the launch event, expressing his admiration for Biden’s strong support for organized labor.
Biden cited a recent U.S. Treasury report that showed the importance of unionization and how it improved economic outcomes.
When Lula visited Biden at the White House in February, both leaders focused on the climate crisis, and pledged to accelerate measures to protect the Amazon, as well as the need to fight for and advance democratic values.
Biden said the new initiative would work to end forced labor and child labor, mitigate the impact on workers of the clean energy and digital economic transitions, promote safe and decent workplaces, and end workplace discrimination, including against women, LGBTQ+ people and racial and ethnic minorities.
It would also focus on harnessing new technologies, like artificial intelligence, to benefit workers, he said.
Lula said the two leaders plan to raise the issues at multilateral forums such as the Group of 20 major economies, which Brazil is heading next year, and the COP 28 and COP 30 global climate events.
The initiative aims “to engage private-sector partners in innovative approaches to create decent jobs in key production chains, combat discrimination in the workplace and promote diversity,” the Brazilian government said in a statement.
International Labor Organization Director General Gilbert Houngbo welcomed what he termed a historic initiative.
“Decent work empowers workers to organize and to negotiate,” he told reporters. “It fosters social justice, which is essential if people are to have a brighter future.”
The joint project is part of a U.S. effort to strengthen ties with Brazil, which has maintained close links to China, its main trading partner, even as tensions have increased sharply between Beijing and Washington.
A second official said Washington had been very clear about its concerns over alleged human rights violations in China, as well as China’s economic practices and military expansion, and would discuss those issues with Brazil.
Biden and Lula also discussed the importance of restoring democracy in Venezuela. Biden outlined a step-by-step approach that could provide U.S. sanctions relief if Venezuela took concrete actions that lead to free and fair elections, the White House said in a statement after the meeting.
The two leaders also discussed the importance of continuing to support Haiti as it deals with a humanitarian and security crisis, and Biden urged Lula to support a multinational security support mission there, the White House said.
Reporting by Andrea Shalal in Washington and Lisandra Paraguassu in Brasilia; editing by Grant McCool and Jonathan Oatis
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