WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Labor said it added textile, footwear and leather from Vietnam to its new “List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor” released on Friday.
Vietnam is a partner with the U.S. and 10 other countries in the pending 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal and is the second largest apparel supplier to the U.S.
The suspected use of child labor in Vietnam and addition of 14 goods to the federal government’s list is sure to raise the alarm of labor and human rights groups that have argued that the human and labor rights abuses are prevalent in Vietnam.
The data the Labor Department used was based on a 2012 child labor survey conducted by the Vietnamese government and International Labour Organization and made public in 2014.
A U.S. labor official said in an interview that there have likely been improvements in those sectors in Vietnam in the four years since the survey was conducted and in the two years since it was made public.
The U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of International Labor Affairs releases the list every two years as part of the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2005. The seventh edition identified 139 goods from 75 countries that the agency “has reason to believe are made by child or forced labor.”
The DOL also highlighted that Jordan has been removed from the list, “based on information that forced labor [in garment production] has been significantly reduced.”
For countries and industries that land on the DOL 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.
But the addition of 14 goods from Vietnam where child or forced labor was suspected of being used will raise the level of scrutiny. Vietnam also remained the DOL’s list for suspected use of child labor in garment production.
The DOL said the survey showed there is evidence that children between the ages of five and 17 have worked in Vietnam to produce textiles, footwear and leather. The minimum legal employment age in Vietnam is 15.
In the three sectors combined, an estimated 3,395 children under the legal minimum age of 15 were suspected of producing footwear, leather and textiles, according to the DOL, citing the survey.
In textiles, an estimated 6,094 child laborers worked primarily in the fabrication and finishing stages of the process. Of those, 43 percent, or 2,595 were under the legal minimum age, the report noted.
“The survey considers a child to be engaged in child labor if the child is working an excessive number of hours per week for his or her age, or if the child is engaged in work that is prohibited for underage employees according to national legislation,” the DOL said.
Despite the information on the use of child labor in Vietnam, U.S. labor officials said government has “demonstrated a strong commitment to addressing child labor through research, programming, and legal and policy development.”
“Just because we added 14 goods from Vietnam to the list does not indicate the child labor situation in Vietnam is worse than in any other country,” said Marcia Eugenio, director of the Office of Child Labor, forced labor and human trafficking in the Bureau of International Labor Affairs at the DOL. “Given the efforts that have been undertaken [by the Vietnamese government in the interim] it is likely the situation is better right now than it was in 2012.”
The DOL’s report cited a $25 million commitment by the Vietnamese government to support the implementation of a National Action Plan on the prevention and reduction of child labor in 2014. The plan aims to raise awareness about child labor and strengthen Vietnam’s legal and policy awareness about the issue.
In addition, the DOL has provided $8 million in funding for the garment sector, which will be combined with $1.2 million from the Vietnamese government to support initiatives to help reduce child labor, in conjunction with the ILO.
Julia Hughes, president at the U.S. Fashion Industry Association, said: “We are a little surprised to see these products added to the list because certainly what we are hearing from our members and what we are hearing from labor groups as well is that there is substantial improvement in compliance in factories in Vietnam.”
In the area of garments, eight countries, including Vietnam, were cited for child or forced labor. The other seven included Argentina, Bangladesh, Brazil, China, India, Malaysia and Thailand.
In textile manufacturing, countries named in addition to Vietnam were Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, Ethiopia, India, Nepal and North Korea.