Child, Forced Labor Still a Global Problem: Report

Despite stepped-up efforts by the U.S. Department of Labor, the problem remains.

WASHINGTON — Despite stepped-up efforts by the U.S. Department of Labor to pressure countries to stop child and forced labor around the world, the problem remains significant in several key countries making apparel, footwear and textiles.

This story first appeared in the December 16, 2010 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

In one of three child labor reports released Wednesday, there was little improvement seen in several previously cited countries in the use of child and forced labor in apparel and footwear manufacturing, the cultivation of cotton and the mining of gold and diamonds. The majority of countries were repeat offenders on the 2010 list and agency officials said they added six new products, including sapphires, allegedly being made or mined with child or forced labor, and 12 new countries, bringing the total to 128 goods from 70 countries.

China, India, Jordan, Argentina, Malaysia and Thailand were named for alleged use of child and forced labor in the apparel industry. China, Bangladesh, Brazil, India and Indonesia were cited for alleged violations in footwear manufacturing.

These same countries were named for alleged use of child and forced labor in apparel and footwear manufacturing in the 2009 report.

Alleged violations in cotton production were cited in 17 countries, ranging from China, Pakistan, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan in Asia to South American nations such as Brazil and Argentina. The reported use of child and slave labor in mining gold was cited in 17 countries, ranging from Bolivia, Colombia and Ecuador in South America to Niger, Ghana, Guinea and Mali in sub-Saharan Africa. Problems with diamond mining were found in seven countries, including Zimbabwe, Angola, Guinea and Sierra Leone.

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. Labor rights advocates and government officials pointed to an overall reduction in child labor problems worldwide as a sign that their efforts are having an impact.

According to the International Labour Organization, research shows that child labor has decreased by 3 percent worldwide from 2004 to 2008, with a 10 percent decrease in children performing hazardous work, the Labor Department report noted.

“At least in one instance, with the products and countries put on this list, some private sector companies actually came to us and asked what they could do to get off the list,” said Sen. Tom Harkin, chairman of the Senate Health, Education and Labor & Pensions Committee, at a press conference. “That is moving in the right direction.”

In a second Labor Department report on the “worst forms of child labor,” in U.S. trade beneficiary countries, India was the only country cited for problems in the apparel industry, but Indonesia and Bangladesh were named for problems in the textile industry. Bangladesh and Turkey were listed for using child labor in the leather goods sector. Countries cited for child labor in the production of footwear included Argentina, India, Indonesia and Turkey. Countries with problems in the cotton industry in the second report included Colombia, Egypt, Ghana, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Madagascar, Mali, Peru, Turkey, Uzbekistan, Zambia and Zimbabwe.