WASHINGTON — While 106 of 144 countries benefiting from U.S. trade preferences showed varying degrees of advancement in their efforts to eradicate child and forced labor, the problem remains in several key countries making apparel, footwear and textiles, cultivating cotton and mining gold and diamonds, a series of U.S. Department of Labor reports showed Wednesday.
According to the International Labor Organization, 215 million children around the world still toil in factories and fields, with more than half working in dangerous conditions. The ILO estimates that a total of 21 million people are trapped in forced labor, including six million children.
“Despite decades of efforts to combat the worst forms of child labor, we still face a stark reality [of its existence],” said Labor Secretary Hilda Solis. “Children are still using machetes, spraying pesticides in farms, working under heavy loads at construction sites, descending into mine shafts…underground and [toiling] at looms in dusty workshops. They are sold as slaves, trafficked as prostitutes and sent into armed conflict.”
“There is still so much we have to do to end this kind of abuse,” Solis said.
Since 1995, the Labor Department has funded more than 250 child labor projects in more than 90 countries, Solis said. By the end of the year, it will have provided an additional $60 million for programs.
“We believe this information can have an enormous impact and help transform the moral imperative into effective public policy,” Solis said of the reports released Wednesday.
One of the agency’s three reports — the List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor — reviewed continuing problems in several industries overseas, including many segments of the fashion industry.
The Labor Department did not assess whether there was improvement in child and forced labor enforcement by industry in any of the three reports. It first began publishing the list in 2009, after Congress mandated it in the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act.
Labor officials said they added four new products, including thread and yarn from India, to the list of goods allegedly using child and forced labor, and three new countries (South Sudan, Suriname and Vietnam), bringing the total to 134 goods and 74 countries.
In apparel manufacturing, two new countries — Vietnam and Brazil — were added to the list of alleged child and forced labor in 2011, bringing the total in that sector to eight. The other six countries were repeat offenders and included Argentina, China, India, Jordan, Malaysia and Thailand.
The use of child and forced labor in cotton production was cited again in 17 countries, ranging in Asia from China, Pakistan and Uzbekistan — a country the fashion industry has been prodding to eliminate child labor — to South American nations such as Brazil and Argentina.
Problems in gold mining were found in 19 countries, from Peru to the Philippines to Nicaragua, North Korea, Ethiopia, Democratic Republic of the Congo and Malia. Problems in diamond mining were found again in seven countries, from Zimbabwe to Angola.
In footwear manufacturing, problems were found in five countries, including Bangladesh, Brazil, China, India and Indonesia.
While there were no removals from the list, the Labor Department said it reviewed seven goods from countries for removal.
On the list of seven products considered for removal in 2011 were apparel and embellished textiles from India and cotton from Azerbaijan and Tajikistan.
“In the 2012 research cycle, there were no goods that met ILAB’s [International Labor Affairs Bureau] standards for removal from the list,” the report said. “However, ILAB continues to remediate the problems of child labor and forced labor in the production of goods.”