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US DOL releases second updated list of goods produced by child labour or forced labour

On October 3, 2011, the Bureau of International Labour Affairs (ILAB) of the U.S. Department of Labour published the second update of the list of goods produced by child labour or forced labour as mandated by the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA) of 2005. Goods from countries that ILAB “has reason to believe are produced with child labour or forced labour in violation of international standards” appear on this list. The fundamental premise of the report is important in terms of bringing some measure of awareness to the public in general and consumers in particular on products and commodities that might have engaged at some stage child or forced labour. This is a vital step in ethical trading and consumption to ensure that the population can make informed personal choices. The civil society and trade union organisations which make up the membership and governance of the Global March have lobbied for many years for greater transparency and accountability along supply chains to ensure that core labour standards are respected, applied and enforced at all stages of goods and services in different industries. This is vital in encouraging companies of all nature and sizes to respect corporate social responsibility principles at every stage of their business, including through all levels of sub-contracting and outsourcing down to the very lowest element of their goods and services.

The International Labour Organization (ILO) estimates that 12.3 million people are trapped in forced labour worldwide. Out of the 215 million economically active children all over the world, about 115 million children participate in hazardous labour. According to the ILO, the number of child labourers worldwide decreased by 3 percent between 2004 and 2008. ILO further estimates that the number of children performing hazardous work across the globe decreased by 10 percent during the same time period. Although this decline represents a slower pace of reduction than over the previous four-year period. Global child labour statistics beyond 2009 are yet not available, but preliminary studies from the ILO indicate that the combination of rising unemployment, falling income, precarious jobs, expanding informal sectors, and slowing remittance flows has left children more vulnerable to labour exploitation.

The 2011 update of the List of goods produced by child labour or forced labour adds 2 new goods, incense (agarbatti) and goats, and 1 new country, Mauritania, to the list. Therefore according to the recently updated US DOL list, children produce 130 types of products in 71 countries throughout Africa, Asia and Latin America. Their work commonly includes agricultural activities, mining/quarrying, manufacturing and sometimes pornography. The list includes 119 goods in the “child labour” category. When goods produced are grouped by sector, the agricultural sector continues to have the highest number of goods. This further corroborates ILO’s estimate that 60 percent of child labour worldwide is in agriculture. A significant number of children also work under tyrannical and unsanitary sweatshop conditions for abysmally low or no wages at all in the garments sector and embroidered textiles (“zari”).

The countries that appear on the list are at different stages of development. According to ILAB more goods have been found to be made by child labourers as compared to forced labour. ILAB releases this 2011 update at a time when global prospects for eradicating child labour and forced labour face new headwinds, due in part to the lingering effects of the global economic crisis.  The goods on the list represent a diverse sample of some of the most severe workplace hazards that children face. ILAB maintains that children’s involvement in these industries is extremely detrimental for their physical, psychological, moral and social well-being, and the enlisted industries are by no means the only ones that present hazards for children.

This approach has been manifest in a number of sectoral initiatives around the world, for example tobacco, carpets, football-stitching, surgical instruments, cocoa, etc., which have experienced varying degrees of success and which can all contribute significantly to knowledge development, resources and management. At present, Global March is working with stakeholders in the garment sector in India with a view to understanding the intentions and motivations of the supply chain actors in addressing child labour. This sector characterises the significant challenges in monitoring with heavy outsourcing activities, seasonal work, informal workshops, and limited state labour inspectorate capacities. Child labour is engaged at various levels in this sector, and not only in India, and highlights the importance of sustainable approaches in monitoring, application and enforcement of core labour standards, including prevention of child labour. Social auditing schemes and programmes are growing at an exponential rate and it is vital that there is a much greater level of coherence applied to these schemes, ensuring fundamental linkages to state labour inspection programmes and activities.  These initiatives highlight a shared desire to “do the right thing” – to ensure that the products and services that are bought and sold in global, regional and domestic markets do not engage child or forced labour at any point in the supply chain and that all core labour standards are applied, respected and enforced. However, the business risk-management approach clubbed with the lack of transparency and information sharing between and among the stakeholders is a reason for concern.

Responding to the new list and these initiatives, Mr. Kailash Satyarthi, Chairperson of Global March Against Child Labour said, “Elimination of child labour or forced labour from an industry or a country requires intensive, sustained commitment by all key stakeholders, the governments, the businesses and the civil society. The industries buying or selling products mentioned in the list must begin first by acknowledging the problem of child or forced labour, instead of denying the existence of the problem. We all know children and adults are victims of trafficking and work in conditions of forced labour in many global supply chains. The challenge is to bring all the stakeholders on the same platform to work towards a collective and sustainable strategy to address child or forced labour.”  The Roadmap for Achieving the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labour by 2016 adopted at the Global Child Labour Conference reiterates the primary role of the governments in developing and strengthening policies and programmes, in consultation with social partners to address child labour, in particular the worst forms, in international supply chains. 

Child labour is a problem that needs to be confronted head-on because of the cultural values associated with it. In many countries, the incidence of child labour prevails because of the level of cultural and social tolerance. This challenge of perception is best confronted through awareness-raising to facilitate changes in attitudes and behaviour and the generation of a sense of shared ownership of the problem and the solutions by all stakeholders.

The U.S. Department of Labour’s second update of the list of goods produced by child labour or forced labour can be accessed by clicking on the following URL: http://www.dol.gov/ilab/programs/ocft/PDF/2011TVPRA.pdf