More than 60 students, from as far away as Belgium, Ecuador, Turkey and Chile, participated in America’s first Model International Labour Organization (ILO) Conference in April, hosted by the Lehigh University-United Nations Partnership and the Martindale Center for the Study of Private Enterprise.

Over the two-day experience, participants were divided into three groups - workers, employers and governments - mirroring the ILO’s tripartite system, and were challenged to create a consensus outcome document designed to combat child labor. To build their foundational knowledge on the issue, participants were also required to submit a position paper, based on their sector.

This student-led simulation was chaired by Alejandro del Valle, co-chaired by Hiwot Demelash and Sophia Holt, and coordinated by Matsela Matsela. 

William Yotive, Model United Nations Coordinator for the World Federation of United Nations Associations and mentor to our leadership team, hoped participants would leave the simulation with three key takeaways: understanding the importance of social dialogue; realizing the link between social justice and achieving world peace; and recognizing how central the work of the ILO is to our lives. 

Participant Jack Graham, Lehigh University ‘22, agreed with the takeaways mentioned by Yotive, stating that his understanding of the importance of social dialogue around the issue of child labour increased by participating in the simulation, “The simulation helped me see how child labour is a really complicated issue which all sectors- governments, employers, and workers- want to be solved, but that there are a lot of intermediary steps to solving the issue.” 

While this simulation was initially scheduled for Spring 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic pushed back the date as the world adjusted to online work and learning. Although the pandemic prohibited the in-person simulation experience, there were many benefits that came with its online nature. One of the most prominent being the virtual simulation’s global participation. 

Vivian Leon, an international relations and economics student at the Universidad San Francisco de Quito in Ecuador, was able to take an active role in the simulation’s amendment process during the simulation as the Vice Chair of the employers group. “I was honored to be Vice Chair of the employers and speak on behalf of our objectives,” she said. “I monitored the employer’s group chat as I listened to the proposed amendments and read the text. It was an intense moment of multitasking, it was awesome!” If not for this simulation’s virtual nature, Leon would not have been able to participate. 

Although virtual, both Graham and Leon believe they were able to have a fulfilling and educational Model ILO experience. Leon mentioned, “I not only had the opportunity to increase my knowledge on the topic of child labour, I also engaged with Senior ILO Executives, learned about the ILO Conferences, and met a team of students from all over the world. I hope for another opportunity in the future to learn even more about the ILO.” 

Yotive agreed, stating, “I am personally very pleased with how it went. We did have some challenges along the way, but I thought we handled them very well and overall, I think it was a very effective simulation.” The Lehigh University / United Nations program looks forward to continuing the Model ILO as an annual event.