WASHINGTON — Bangladesh and Cambodia, already plagued by concerns over safety and workers’ rights, now have another cause for concern: new child labor allegations.
The U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of International Labor Affairs said Monday it has added garments from Bangladesh and textiles from Cambodia to its new “List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor.”
A separate DOL report released in October that provided country assessments on the worst forms of child labor did not include garments from Bangladesh or textiles from Cambodia. For countries and industries that land on the U.S. government watch list detailing alleged use of child and forced labor, the consequences can range from public perception problems to potential economic fallout. But there are no punitive actions or trade remedies associated with being named on the list that was mandated by the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2005.
Bangladesh has been at the center of a maelstrom in the wake of two factory tragedies that claimed the lives of more than 1,240 workers and the DOL’s action on Monday adds another concern to the long list of problems retailers and brands are facing there.
Eric Biel, associate deputy undersecretary of labor for international affairs, said on a conference call with reporters that the DOL has been “spending a lot of time and attention on” researching the informal sector and subcontracting in Bangladesh’s garment industry. Biel noted that the DOL only has evidence of child labor in Bangladesh’s informal sector.
“That is key, but the other part of the equation is because of the challenge of identifying the full supply chain, which is something we are all working quite hard to do more sufficiently,” Biel said. “It is difficult to know what links there are between the informal sector production and where goods ultimately end up, including potentially some of those exported to this or other countries.”
Marcia Eugenio, director of the DOL’s Office of Child Labor, Forced Labor and Human Trafficking, said: “Back in the 1990s, there were a lot of children that were working in those big factories and there was a push to actually clean up factories in more ways than one. A lot of those children were pushed out and into the more informal or unregulated work situation both in garment and other types of settings. We are hoping that with the listing of the product we will actually be able to engage in conversation with both the government of Bangladesh and also with the garment industry as to efforts that are currently being made and additional efforts that could be made to address the problem.”
Several other countries previously cited for child or forced labor remained on the DOL list in several industries. In garment production, they included Argentina, Brazil, China, India, Jordan, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam. In textile manufacturing, countries named were Bangladesh, China, India, Nepal and North Korea. In the area of diamond and gem mining, countries cited are Angola, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Guinea, India, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Zambia.
In cotton growing and cultivating, countries named for using child or forced labor or both are Argentina, Azerbaijan, Benin, Brazil, Burkina Faso, China, Egypt, India, Kazakhstan, Pakistan, Paraguay, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Zambia.