WASHINGTON — Child and forced labor continues to be a widespread problem in the global production of apparel and footwear, cultivation of cotton, and mining of gold and diamonds, according to a report Thursday by the U.S. Department of Labor.
As part of the 194-page report, the Labor Department’s Bureau of International Labor Affairs published a first-ever list of 122 goods from 58 countries that were “believed” to have been made with child or forced labor in violation of international labor standards. Congress directed the Labor Department to investigate child and forced labor, and publish a list in the “Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2005.”
In the manufacturing sector, apparel, footwear, carpets and bricks were among the products that appeared most frequently in relation to child or forced labor allegations, while cotton was on the list of most common agricultural products, and gold was cited most frequently in mined and quarried products.
“With the release of these reports, it is my strong hope that consumers, firms, governments, labor unions and other stakeholders will step up efforts to translate economic power into a force for good that ultimately eliminates abusive child labor and forced labor,” Labor Secretary Hilda Solis said.
Solis said U.S. brands and companies are “already working to root out child labor and forced labor from their supply chains” and “the Department of Labor will continue to work with these firms.”
China, India, Thailand, Malaysia, Jordan and Argentina were cited for alleged use of child and forced labor in the apparel industry. China, Bangladesh, Brazil, India and Indonesia were cited for alleged labor violations in footwear manufacturing.
Alleged violations in cotton production were cited in 15 countries, ranging from China, Pakistan, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan in Asia to South American nations such as Argentina and Brazil. The reported use of child and slave labor in mining gold was cited in 17 countries ranging from Bolivia, Colombia and Peru in South America to Niger, Senegal and Burkina Faso in sub-Saharan Africa. Problems with diamond mining were found in Liberia, Sierra Leone and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The names of U.S. companies and their foreign factories where child and forced labor violations were said to have been found were not released in the report. Research for the list included 18 months of investigations, analysis and reporting by the Labor bureau. The list does not include goods made in the U.S., but Solis acknowledged such problems still exist in domestic industries.
Sandra Polaski, deputy undersecretary for international affairs at the Labor Department, said in an interview that hundreds of thousands of companies are likely involved in producing and buying goods in the 58 countries on the list, making it virtually impossible to publish every name. She said the Labor bureau will seek to reach out to firms where there are concentrated industries of four or five buyers.
“This list distills patterns of child and forced labor around the world, and one can now map out and see patterns of where the problems are,” said Polaski. “It’s easier for those willing governments and firms to target their efforts, and it also means those who are not willing to put in the effort [to eliminate the abuses] are now under the spotlight. The information itself will have a catalytic effect on a number of governments and industries.”
Erik Autor, vice president and international trade counsel for the National Retail Federation, said, “Our view is the information is good, so if there are problems that folks uncover we would like to know about it so we can inform our members so they can take whatever action is appropriate.”
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