Child Labor Report: The Good and Bad

WASHINGTON — A handful of countries are making progress inreducing child labor in apparel and textile production, a new U.S. Department of Labor report revealed Thursday.<br><br>However, egregious child labor abuses in the apparel and textile...

WASHINGTON — A handful of countries are making progress inreducing child labor in apparel and textile production, a new U.S. Department of Labor report revealed Thursday.

This story first appeared in the August 2, 2002 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

However, egregious child labor abuses in the apparel and textile industries still thrive around the world, and the report also identifies several countries.

“The point here is this report is indicative of the fact that countries that denied problems in the past are now not only admitting problems, but are also taking steps to address them,” said a Labor official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “There is definitely progress being made.”

The U.S. has provided $112 million to the International Labour Organization since 1995 in an effort to eradicate child labor, according to the DOL official. The Bush administration has proposed that $30 million be earmarked for the Geneva-based ILO in the fiscal 2003 budget.

The report, the seventh in a series mandated by Congress, details the efforts of 33 countries to reduce a plethora of child labor abuses, such as child trafficking and prostitution, as well as the employment of children in agriculture, manufacturing and services.

It identifies 33 countries, which are not necessarily the worst offenders of child labor abuses, but in which the problem exists, and documents the laws, policies and programs adopted by those countries to combat abusive child labor. The 316-page report is independent of another recent Labor study on child labor in 143 countries receiving U.S. trade benefits.

At least nine of the 33 countries profiled in the newly released report abuse child labor in apparel, footwear or textile production, including Pakistan, the Philippines, Brazil, Bangladesh, Egypt, Cambodia, India, Indonesia and Lesotho. The new report also lists some improvements in child labor abuses since the last such study in 1998. Bangladesh and Cambodia top the list in improving child labor conditions in garment manufacturing.

In July 1995, the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers’ Association, the ILO and UNICEF signed a Memorandum of Understanding aimed at eliminating child labor in the garment industry. It established a workplace monitoring system and social protection program, including educational opportunities for children removed from work. The U.S. DOL helped fund the monitoring system.

As a result, the number of child workers in the garment industry in Bangladesh has been “significantly” reduced from 43 percent in 1995 to 3 percent as of January 2001, according to the report. Cambodia, as reported, also significantly improved child labor abuses in its garment industry. The ILO started its first-of-a-kind project to monitor working conditions in Cambodia’s garment industry in 2001. So far, the project has monitored 64 factories and uncovered only one “minor instance” of child labor, according to the DOL report.

Two other significant U.S. suppliers of apparel, Honduras and El Salvador, have greatly reduced child labor in the maquila industry, where much of the apparel production is done, according to the State Department’s annual human rights report, which is cited in the Labor study.

In Honduras, the minimum age requirements have been raised in the maquila industry, with some plants hiring only those above 18 years of age, according to the State Department. Additionally, a report on the maquila industry found no workers under the age of 17 and only 0.5 percent who were 17 years old.

Despite some reported improvements, the use of child labor is still rampant around the globe. In 1998, the ILO estimated that 10 percent of children between the ages of 10 and 14 were working in Egypt. A 1998 Egyptian government survey estimated approximately 1.4 million children between the ages of 6 and 14 worked.

According to a survey in urban Cairo, most Egyptian girls work in clothing or textile manufacturing, while boys work as mechanics or in the retail or service sector, the DOL said. In Egypt’s formal economy, children work in the carpet, leather tanning and textile industries. Although the government employs about 2,000 labor inspectors, only two cases of illegal child labor were reported in 1999.

The report also gives details of the harmful conditions under which children work. In the leather tanning industry in India, children are exposed to corrosive chemicals and bacterial contamination from hides. In the footwear industry in Agra, India, children work in small workshops up to 12 hours a day and are exposed to glue fumes and other chemicals.

Child labor is also used in the labor-intensive, hand-knotted carpet industry in India, where children frequently work in confined, dimly lit workshops and may develop respiratory illnesses and spinal deformities from long hours crouched at the looms.