Jordi Agustí-Panareda: Mixing Law and Diplomacy

For Jordi AgustÍ-Panareda, JSM ’03, JSD ’05, a lawyer at the International Labour Organization (ILO), it was just another day at the office.

A member state of the ILO had seized the bank accounts of a field office in a dispute over social security contributions. The national authorities wanted the ILO to pay into their country’s system, even though ILO member states had set up a separate scheme aimed at ensuring equal treatment for officials working at international organizations. Soon, Agustí-Panareda was on the ground, trying to make peace without alienating a member that was on the wrong side of the law.

“I listened carefully to their arguments—seeking to identify the stakeholders and actual underlying issues—to then respectfully foster their understanding of the special situation and rules applicable to international organizations,” he recalls. “Progressively, I laid out elements of a solution that would allow everyone to save face and be sound under both international law and the national legal framework.” Ultimately, the government agreed to “clarify the situation” by signing an agreement that acknowledged the ILO’s international specificities.

Such is lawyering for an international organization—a kind of problem solving that uses both legal argument and diplomacy.

Agustí-Panareda, a native of Catalonia who has made his professional home at the Geneva-based ILO for more than a decade, is well suited to the task. Now the head of unit and coordinator for Freedom of Association, he is a student of international dispute resolution and an endearing and generous professional and friend, who sees his life work as building bridges.

“Taking the time to listen, understand, and acquire trust from others is key to being able to broker compromise solutions.”

– Jordi Agustí-Panareda, JSM ’03, JSD ’05, Lawyer, International Labour Organization

“He has this diplomatic ability and sensitivity to be able to talk to basically everyone,” says Oksana Wolfson, a lawyer and ILO colleague. “He’s warm and open, and people naturally trust him.”

The attributes are useful at the ILO, an arm of the United Nations devoted to setting up and supervising international labor standards targeting such issues as forced labor, freedom of association, and equal pay for men and women. With 187 state members, it operates through a tripartite governance structure, including representatives of governments, employers, and workers.

By its own admission, much work remains to be done: An ILO study found 152 million child laborers worldwide, even though an ILO convention on child labor has been overwhelmingly ratified. But the organization, which was established in 1919 as part of the Treaty of Versailles, has withstood the test of time. Aside from setting standards and supervising their application, it offers technical guidance to member countries looking to promote decent and productive work.

Agustí-Panareda grew up in a small town outside Barcelona, where his mother was a nurse and his father an artificial intelligence researcher. He got degrees in law from the Autonomous University of Barcelona and the London School of Economics. A research colleague who’s an SLS alum put the interdisciplinary opportunities at Stanford Law on Agustí-Panareda’s radar screen.

His home away from home at Stanford Law became the Gould Center for Conflict Resolution, where his doctoral thesis was on intercultural mediators in Catalonia and their work with a growing immigrant population, in particular from North Africa. He stood out for his intense and wide-ranging intellectual curiosity, often far outside the strict practice of law.

Illustration by Stuart Bradford
Illustration by Stuart Bradford

Agustí-Panareda may be the only SLS graduate, for example, whose resume includes custom perfume making. He collects rare and exotic ingredients on personal travels, once gathering up some ambergris on a beach in Ireland. He is a student of creative cooking and mixology and keeps infused liquors around his apartment, summoning designer cocktails for office parties and special occasions. His current project:
bean-to-bar chocolate.

“Jordi gets interested in something, and just goes for it,” says Sergio Puig, JSM ’04, JSD ’09. A professor at the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law, Puig recalls an “amazing” mezcal and pomegranate libation Agustí-Panareda concocted for his wedding. “He likes to give. He treats everybody with a lot of care and kindness.”

After SLS, Agustí-Panareda worked in a young professional program at the World Bank in Washington, D.C., and was an associate in the New York office of Sullivan & Cromwell. An online posting about a competitive position in the ILO Office of the Legal Adviser led him to Geneva.

With a large and diverse constituency, the work requires the appearance and fact of objectivity, often best achieved out of the limelight.

“We have to be attentive and careful,” Agustí-Panareda says. “It is the sort of work that requires not only commitment to the values of the organization but also dedication to service and invisible professionalism.”

In 2014, the ILO updated its standard for combating the scourge of forced labor. A new protocol for the original convention, adopted in 1930, reflected growing concern over new forms of forced labor—including through human trafficking—and the need to take more aggressive action to prevent forced labor and provide victims with protection and access to remedies. Behind the scenes, Agustí-Panareda counseled delegates on standard-setting procedures and on drafting options that could garner consensus among constituents in strengthening the global fight against forced labor.

Last year, the ILO turned again to Agustí-Panareda to lead the secretariat for a Commission of Inquiry concerning alleged violations of ILO conventions under the socialist government in Venezuela. His position involves providing support to the commission’s investigation to ascertain all the facts of the case and to make recommendations to address the issues raised.

Just a dozen other such inquiries have taken place in ILO history.

Agustí-Panareda says his research on cross-cultural negotiation and mediation has helped him to be more aware of the complexities of the dialogue and negotiation processes the ILO goes through.

“Taking the time to listen, understand, and acquire trust from others,” he says, “is key to being able to broker compromise solutions.”

Rick Schmitt, an attorney and freelance writer, was a staff writer and editor for The Wall Street Journal and the Justice Department correspondent in the Washington Bureau of the Los Angeles Times.