Remembering Stephen Coats / Recordando a Stephen Coats

It is with great sadness that we post this news.  Stephen Coats, Executive Director of USLEAP, passed away on April 2, 2013.  Stephen was a tremendous friend and a tireless advocate of workers’ rights.  He touched so many people around the world, serving as a leader in building worker solidarity in the Americas.  Stephen’s dedication and humility inspired so many worker rights advocates.  This is a tremendous loss for all.

Es con tremenda tristeza que pegamos estas noticias.  Stephen Coats, Director Ejecutiva de USLEAP, se falleció el 2 de abril 2013.  Stephen fue un gran amigo y un promotor de derechos laborales sin cansancio.  Toco tantas personas a través del mundo, sirviendo como líder en la construcción de la solidaridad obrera en las Américas.  El compromiso y dedicación de Stephen a este trabajo inspiro miles de promotores de derechos laborales.  Es una perdida tremenda para todos/as.

We are posting here information about ways to memorialize Stephen and comments we received from various friends and colleagues of Stephen as well as some articles about his work.  

En seguida, incluimos información sobre como contribuir al recordatorio de Stephen y comentarios de varios colegas y unos artículos sobre el trabajo de Stephen.  


Here is the information about visitation and services:


Friday, April 5, 2013

Visitation   4 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Drake & Son Funeral Home

5303 N Western Avenue

Chicago, IL    60625


Saturday, April 6, 2013

Visitation   10 a.m. to 11 a.m. 

Funeral Service  11 a.m. to noon (or so)

Fellowship Time  after service

North Shore Baptist Church

5244 N Lakewood Avenue

Chicago, IL  60640


The family asks that if you want to do something in Stephen's memory (in lieu of flowers), please consider making a contribution to one of the following ministries/organizations that were so important to him:



address updated in Dec. 2013:       

c/o ILRF
1634 I St. NW, Suite 1001

Washington, DC 20006

The mission of USLEAP was Stephen's life's work.


Chicago Religious Leadership Network on Latin America

4750 N. Sheridan Road, #429

Chicago, IL   60640

Stephen had tremendous respect for this organization's work in support of workers rights in Central America.


North Shore Baptist Church (put “for the Karen Missions” in the memo line)

5244 N. Lakewood Avenue

Chicago, IL   60640

Stephen was an active member of the church and involved in supporting the ministry with Karen refugees.  Stephen grew up in Thailand on the Burmese border where his parents ministered with Karen people. 


If you wish to send a card, you can send it to:

The Bobo/Coats Family

1723 W Chase Avenue

Chicago, IL 60626


Comments we received from friends and colleagues:

Ron Oswald: I cannot begin to describe the sense of shock, sadness and loss we all feel at the IUF at the sudden loss of Stephen, one of our greatest and dearest comrades and friends. Stephen's selfless commitment and dedication to those he sought to support and fight alongside with served as an inspiration for so many of us. In our common struggle for justice Stephen was a rock and a giant far surpassing the sometimes modest organizational limits of US LEAP (and previously US GLEP), the organization he so determinedly built and whose existence, principles and moral authority he was so much responsible for creating and cementing over what were sometimes difficult times over many years. And all done in a self-effacing, modest yet truly inspirational way. His personal friendship was something I valued beyond that that simple words can convey. I will miss him greatly simply as a friend as well as a comrade whom I was proud to stand shoulder to shoulder with in our common struggle for the most basic of rights and justice. Inadequate though they feel today please accept our solidarity and our deepest condolences at a time of huge sadness, loss and shock for you, your and Stephen's sons, his entire family and all his many, many friends.  Within the IUF, both its secretariat and its membership, we will all miss him so very much both as a friend and as a comrade. We will not forget him nor his unique contribution to our common struggle. We will do what I am sure he would most want us to do right now. We will continue our common fight for justice more determined than ever and we will do so always knowing that Stephen is firmly at our side.

Jeffery Hermanson: I join with all of you and many others in mourning the loss of a great friend, comrade and tireless fighter for workers' rights, Stephen Coats. I remember as if it were yesterday the struggle at CAMOSA, the Phillips Van Heusen factory in Guatemala, in which Stephen led one of the first successful international solidarity campaigns to win recognition and a collective bargaining agreement for workers in a Central American maquila. Through many difficult battles, Stephen was a calm and determined force, treating everyone with the greatest respect, inspiring us all with his commitment to justice. We will miss him greatly, and remember him always.

David Schilling: It's a body blow.  What a shock. I've depended so much on the many phone conversations and meetings over coffee at the Interchurch Center with Stephen over the last two decades. What a deep sense of sadness that he is no longer in this world to fight so effectively for workers' rights.  What a loss.

Sr. Susan Mika: I was honored to serve with Stephen and know him!  When there is an obituary, please send it along.  I will share this with Coalition for Justice in the Maquiladoras and the Interfaith Center for Corporate Responsibility.  All of us thought the world of Stephen!  What a loss for the world!

Alistair Smith: Un gran hombre fallece... Hola compañeras y compañeros, Esta mañana una persona muy especial  - un gran hombre, humilde, visionario; luchador por la justicia social - nos dejó. Falleció, sin el mínimo de preaviso, el compañero Stephen Coats. Solo ayer estuvimos comunicando por correo, todo normal. Luego viene esta noticia devastadora de su esposa Kim. Por el momento estoy en estado de choque y no puedo decir más, pero en estos días, creo que colaboraremos para sacar homenajes a este gran hombre. Adelantando mis condolencias, me despido con tristeza,

Judy Gearhart: The shock is overwhelming really.  Steve dedicated his life to workers and international labor solidarity.  For me he was a mentor, a friend and a true partner in this work -- always willing to look at new ways to push harder for workers' rights. I know this will come as a tremendous loss to many of you as well. My deepest condolences to his family and to all of you.

Tim Beaty: My friend and colleague Stephen Coats passed away this morning. Steve had a lifelong commitment to building a more just world. As Executive Director of USLEAP since 1990 he championed rights of workers in Latin America through worker organizing (banana, coffee, apparel, flower and maquila workers), demanding better standards in trade rules (GSP, CAFTA, NAFTA) and denouncing violence against trade unionists (Guatemala, Colombia, Honduras, Ecuador, Mexico). He was a trusted advisor, strategic thinker and networker. I'll miss him greatly.

Dana Frank:…this is so huge for me.  He was the moral and personal center of my political life, and one of my closest friends in the world.

Sue Longley: …for years he's been a stalwart of the global banana work.  I am truly at a loss to imagine life without his self-effacing, always wise guidance.

U Roberto Romano: An amazing person, may his work and memory live on and inspire...

Scott Paul: I'm so sorry to hear this. Stephen was indeed an amazing advocate.

Bert Schouwenburg: Strangely enough I was thinking about Stephen today when I saw that his beloved Cubs had won on opening day. This is a terrible loss for our movement and Stephen will be hugely missed. Not only was he a great campaigner on behalf of Latin American workers, he was a lovely fellow as well.

Kailash Satyarthi: Steve has been a long time champion of workers rights. I personally and on behalf of Global March express deep condolences to you and his family.

Jacqui Mackay: I am extremely sorry to be passing on the very sad and shocking news below that Stephen Coats, director of US LEAP,  has died. Stephen was a wonderful, warm and wise man who will be missed immeasurably.

Bama Athreya: So much of the work that Stephen did has had a lasting impact on the anti-sweatshop movement.  I remember the path-breaking work on PVH in Guatemala, and Stephen's longstanding and thoughtful contributions to so many conversations about the directions we needed to take to improve conditions in the maquilas.  We worked together to expose the conditions faced by women flower workers in Colombia. There were so many ways in which his life and work touched many others.

Interfaith Worker Justice: Stephen Coats, Presente

Lynda Yanz, Maquila Solidarity Network: Stephen Coats, One Of Our Heroes

Cathy Feingold, AFL-CIO: Labor Activist Leaves Legacy of Strengthening Global Worker Rights

David Moberg, In These Times: Where Jesus and Marx Intersect


Earlier articles about Stephen:

Labor Pains, Crain’s Chicago Business  1/24/1994

GLEP is headquartered in the Rogers Park home of its 42-year-old director, Stephen Coats, a Yale Divinity School alum and veteran anti-poverty activist who has seen the labor group's original $10,000 annual budget grow tenfold since he took over in 1990.

Under Mr. Coats' direction, GLEP has stood out from equally feisty non-profit groups because it does more than pester American stores wittingly or unwittingly doing business with labor rights violators.  Its research and congressional lobbying have persuaded officials in Washington, D.C., to enforce laws linking Guatemala's trading privileges to respect for worker rights. In fact, U.S. Trade Representative Mickey Kantor last month warned that Guatemala may lose trade benefits unless the government improves the human rights climate in the next six months.  GLEP designed its two-pronged strategy with Guatemalan unions "to ensure that no business-U.S. or Guatemalan-profits from the systematic violation of worker rights," says Mr. Coats….

U.S. unionists comprise most of GLEP's board. And Juan Sanchez Botran, former president of Guatemala's Nontraditional Exporters Assn., has accused GLEP of "taking up the banner of human rights" in a "smear campaign" to "shut down the nation's maquiladoras" to safeguard union jobs in the United States.  Rhetoric?  Maybe. Yet such charges can have deadly consequences in Guatemala.  Mr. Coats says he has "received what can be considered as death threats." But the Waukegan native insists on perspective: "We believe the real danger is faced by the Guatemalans with whom we work."

Socially Conscious Grande, Please, Chicago Tribune March 13, 1995

Corporate moguls who wouldn't know a good deed if it bit them. Greedy titans who chainsaw their way through workers and communities. Those are the folks who make you angry. But big-hearted, socially accountable Starbucks Corp.?

Naaah. Not the Seattle-based icon of upscale coffee drinking that donates more to CARE than any other North American company, lavishes benefits on part-time workers and helps needy causes across the map. Yet that good reputation is exactly why Stephen Coats decided to go after Starbucks.

If Starbucks wouldn't live up to its image, who else would care about poor Guatemalan coffee workers? figured Coats, director of the U.S/Guatemala Labor Education Project, a tiny 4-year-old operation he runs out of his Rogers Park apartment. Most Guatemalan coffee plantations, according to Coats, pay less than the $2.50-a-day minimum wage, a sum, he added, that is widely considered one-third of the amount needed to support a rural family of five. This is not, however, one of those gloomy, cloudy day stories.

Success prevailed for Coats, a Yale Divinity School graduate and community organizer, and the coalition of church, labor and community groups he put together to pressure Starbucks. Starbucks recently said it would try to work something out with Coats' group. The company would decide "what are the best things we can do to make a difference," said Dave Olsen, a senior vice president. Being targeted because you are a well-known good guy came as a heady experience for a company that began to reach beyond its Northwest origins only in the last decade. "This has given us the realization that we have to act bigger than we are," said Olsen.

Coats wanted Starbucks to adopt a code of conduct for the Guatemalan coffee growers from whom it buys its beans, a step akin to one taken by Levi Strauss in its Third-World dealings. Levi Strauss, in 1992, adopted a wide-ranging guidelines that covered the treatment of workers by its hired factories overseas.

As grounds for his request, Coats noted that the U.S. Trade Representative's Office has kept Guatemala's status for receiving tariffs breaks on probation for three years. U.S. officials said they are still monitoring the situation in Guatemala, where, they added, workers' conditions have improved. The problem is a lack of compliance with Guatemalan laws, they said. Handed the request several months ago by Coats' group, Starbucks at first demurred. As officials saw it, there was not much the company could do, since it buys only a small portion of Guatemala's coffee.  Instead, they pointed to projects Starbucks sponsors with CARE in Guatemala, Indonesia, Kenya and especially in Ethiopia, where farmers are being taught new coffee-growing practices. But after a few months of meetings, a letter-writing campaign and a February rally outside company stores in 25 cities, Starbucks said it would set down a code of conduct. The process, the company added, might take a while since this is new territory. "Step one is don't promise something you can't deliver," Olsen said, adding he is not sure how the company will enforce such a code. Still, "it's an incredibly important first step," said Erich Hahn, who works with Coats. No other U.S. company involved in agriculture overseas has gone even that far, he said. However, Larry Chambers, a worker at First Chicago Corp. wasn't so impressed last week as he walked away with a large coffee from the Starbucks store at Clark and Madison in the Loop. "I drink coffee for the buzz," he said. "I don't get into how much social responsibility the coffee comes with."

But the company's action did matter to attorney Adrian Logan, who was cradling a cup of tea to go. "If you going to profit from the global community, then you have to share your profits," she said. "When I think of putting my dollars somewhere, I think of what that company's philosophy is."





re: Remembering Stephen Coats / Recordando a Stephen Coats

I met Steve in 2009 while working for the World Banana Forum, a challenging project aiming at a more sustainable global production and trade of bananas. I saw him for the last time six months ago in Chicago... Steve was a reference for many, the man with the warm sight and always open to understand each other needs. Someone as sensitive as sensible. I am glad that we crossed our paths and shared some time together and I am sure that his efforts have helped many workers and will still do so. Te echaremos de menos, Steve. Descansa en paz.

re: Remembering Stephen Coats / Recordando a Stephen Coats

It's been a couple days and I'm still trying to absorb this loss. Stephen was a friend and mentor, as well as colleague for so many years, there's just this huge hole in the universe now, a space that should be filled with his chuckles and friendly presence, but is now empty. I'm also realizing now, as I read these lists and tributes, how many other people are in my life due to Stephen - he really brought people toether. there are not many people in the world like him. he will be missed beyond words....

re: Remembering Stephen Coats / Recordando a Stephen Coats

About Stephen:
There is a small group of gringos who listen well, who can get into other cultures deeply, who understand what equal partnership across borders mean, and hence who earn deep respect of allies in other countries. Steve Coats was at the top of that small group. I met him in the 1980s, when GLEP (now USLEAP) was taking off and when a number of us were founding what has become the International Labor Rights Forum. As we created new instruments in U.S. law to challenge worker rights abuses overseas, Steve was there with his Guatemalan allies to test it. As that fight evolved into the free trade fights with Mexico and then Central America, Steve was a key go-between for the groups in different nations. Every step of the way, he modeled what true partnership looked like. When he needed to be in the background, he was in the background. When he needed to step up, he stepped up. He has been a key force in the advance of worker rights in this hemisphere, and in the understanding among our movements. He lives on in this work.
- John Cavanagh, Director, Institute for Policy Studies

re: Remembering Stephen Coats / Recordando a Stephen Coats

I first met Stephen as a young intern working for Kim Bobo at Bread for the World in NYC, in 1980. I was glad to see him many years later, when he visited me a couple of times at the Open Society Foundations. I did not know him well, but his life-long commitment to social justice was both admirable and courageous. I remember watching the 1980 presidential election returns at his and Kim's apartment, and most vividly recall him storming out of the room with the announcement, if my memory serves, that John Culver had lost his Senate seat.

My best wishes go to Kim and his family, and to all his friends and colleagues whose lives will be less without him.

re: Remembering Stephen Coats / Recordando a Stephen Coats

I can't believe it has taken me so long to get this news and my shock and sadness is now so delayed... I first met Stephen in Belgium at Banana conference -- at the time I thought how can there be whole conference about bananas, but Steve was a patient teacher who knew how to bring in allies, explain details to new organizers and never let go of his deep commitment to worker's rights and dignity. He was a fierce and loyal friend who could disagree with you but stay engaged all the time. I'm so sorry for Kim and the boys and LEAP and all of us who have lost a dear friend and comrade. Kirsten (Global Exchange)