WASHINGTON — Children still mine for gold and diamonds, weave carpets, sew clothing and footwear, pick cotton and work in leather tanneries in countries receiving U.S. trade benefits, according to a newly released U.S. Department of Labor report.
The 500-page report details the “worst forms” of child labor in 146 trade beneficiary countries and territories, ranging from “hazardous” jobs such as construction to apparel, textile and footwear production to bonded labor, drug trafficking and prostitution.
Compiled as part of a requirement under the Trade & Development Act of 2000, the report gives country profiles on the percentage of estimated child labor in each country, as well as the ongoing efforts to eliminate it. It does not offer any measurement of whether a country has improved or worsened its child labor record.
In 2000, the International Labour Organization estimated that 211 million children between the ages of five and 14 were working around the world, according to the report.
Congress appropriated $45 million and earmarked it for the ILO in the fiscal year that ends in September and also gave an additional $37 million to the DOL’s child labor education initiatives for fiscal year 2003 and 2004, according to a labor official who requested anonymity.
At least six of the DOL’s child labor projects from 1995 to 2002 have included efforts to reduce abuse in footwear, apparel and textile production.
At least 20 countries abuse child labor in the production of one or more of the following: textiles (including cotton harvesting and leather tanning), apparel, jewelry (gold and diamond mining) and footwear, according to the report. They include Argentina, Bangladesh, Bulgaria, Chile, the Ivory Coast, Croatia, Egypt, Ethiopia, Guatemala, Guinea, India, Indonesia, Mali, Morocco, Pakistan, Senegal, Swaziland, Turkey, Venezuela and Zimbabwe.
“We note in the introduction to the report there has been an increase in awareness about child labor, especially the worst forms, since 1999,” said a labor official who requested anonymity. “We are also encouraged to note the commitment to eliminating the worst forms of child labor seems to be gaining momentum.”
But the official also acknowledged there are many barriers to implementation, including poverty, and a lack of financial resources makes governments more hesitant to enforce laws or implement programs.
“While the increase in ratification of ILO conventions and the strengthening of labor laws are promising, there remain significant gaps in many governments’ ability to implement their commitments to eliminate the worst forms of child labor,” the report states.
Linda Golodner, president of the National Consumers’ League, which formed the Coalition on Child Labor 10 years ago, said, “The fact that the DOL does a report like this puts countries on notice to look at incidents of child labor. If these reports weren’t done, it could mean business as usual in a lot of these countries.”
Despite these ongoing programs, some labor and human rights groups claim the Bush administration is backing away from the Clinton administration’s efforts to tie labor provisions to trade benefits in free-trade agreements. As a case in point, the U.S. recently wrapped up a controversial bilateral textile agreement with Vietnam and did not tie trade preferences to labor improvements.
Labor Secretary Elaine Chao has maintained that trade agreements that contain sanctions to enforce labor and environmental provisions are ineffective.