Chloe Stoddard, '21
Advocating for workers’ rights in a pandemic
The COVID-19 pandemic changed the summer plans of countless students and impacted each individual in a variety of ways. For me, this meant working full-time from my bedroom in Wisconsin for the Colombia office of The Business and Human Rights Resource Centre, an international human rights organization.
Despite being different from the normal internship experience, I was excited to bring my passion for workers’ rights and my language skills to a new, albeit virtual, setting. After years of being involved in workers’ rights organizing on campus and witnessing the impact of the pandemic specifically on Stanford workers, I was eager to learn new advocacy skills and approaches from this world-renowned organization while continuing to fight for the rights of those in our Stanford community.
Although I was excited, there was, of course, an adjustment period. My years of studying and working in Spanish did not quite prepare me for the difficulties of communicating in a foreign language over a virtual platform. The body language and mannerisms that non-native speakers depend on to help determine the tone of conversations and the definitions of words that have multiple meanings were less clear over occasionally spotty connections.
As I adjusted and became more comfortable with the new normal, I was proud of the work we were accomplishing. Even during a global pandemic, the organization was steadfast in holding corporations accountable for the human rights abuses they commit.
My biggest project of the summer was creating a public report in English of the documented coronavirus-related human rights abuses perpetrated by international corporations operating across South America.
As I documented my research findings, it became clear that there was a trend of extractive industry companies making miners go back to work without proper protections, leading to outbreaks in the thousands. Many companies were also making employees work in unfair conditions while requiring them to purchase their own personal protective equipment.
During our weekly progress updates, my team would begin each meeting with a COVID-19 check-in.
“How are you? Is your family safe? Is your neighborhood all right?” the office director would ask us.
As the members of my Colombia-based team responded, I would always go last, reporting on the status of the pandemic in Wisconsin. When I informed my team that my state had no restrictions in place in my state, there were gasps and heads shaking. As each week passed, the pandemic worsened in the United States and the disbelief from my team did not subside as they shared their stories of what it was like to live in strict lockdown in Colombia due to rising cases in South America.
The entire experience was an important public service and reflection opportunity. Many of the trends regarding workers’ rights that I was seeing across South America were also reflected in my Stanford community, and I have integrated many of the organization's advocacy strategies into my own organizing work.
Additionally, working with an international organization during a global pandemic was a sobering experience, as I felt my co-workers empathize with me for living in a country where the government refuses to respond adequately to the pandemic in order to save the lives of its citizens.