Tim Newman, Campaigns Director, International Labor Rights Forum
As part of the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, the US Department of Labor (DOL) released today a list of 122 goods from 58 countries that are produced by forced labor and child labor. Find out more and see the list here. Included in the list are many of the products that ILRF recommend to the DOL during our testimony in 2008, for example: cocoa in Cote d'Ivoire and Ghana, cotton from Uzbekistan, rubber from Liberia, tobacco from Malawi, cottonseed, stones and soccer balls from India, sugar from Guatemala and surgical instruments from Pakistan. You can check out ILRF's press release here and our press release about Uzbek cotton with the American Federation of Teachers and Calvert here.
As the list was announced today, major chocolate and candy companies that are part of the National Confectioners Association were converging on Washington, DC to lobby for their legislative agenda (check out exactly who was attending here). The list from DOL shows that after 8 years, the chocolate industry has failed to end forced and child labor in West Africa. For example, just last month, I wrote on this blog about how INTERPOL conducted a mission in Cote d'Ivoire that freed a number of children who had been trafficked and forced to work on cocoa farms. Additionally, the list named sugarcane from 14 different countries (across Latin America, Asia, the Middle East and Africa) as having child and forced labor problems. Clearly, the workers who produce the main ingredients in the candy we consume in the US do not see any of the "sweet" profits trickle down.
In Uzbekistan, the government removes children from school during the harvest season and forces them to pick cotton all across the country. ILRF has been working with trade unions, investors and businesses to call for an end to these abuses. We also have a complaint against Uzbekistan under the Generalized System of Preferences that is pending before the Office of the US Trade Representative.
In Malawi, thousands of children pick tobacco which ends up in most of the cigarettes smoked in the US. A recent report said that these children are exposed to the equivalent of 50 cigarettes a day, leading to serious health problems. The rubber industry in Liberia was also on the list and readers of this blog know all about the child labor abuses on Firestone's rubber plantation in that country.
I hope that the release of this list will help consumers be more aware of the abuses that lie behind so many of the products we consume. The list should also help to focus government and industry attention on taking stronger action to improve labor standards in these areas. In terms of follow-up on the list, ILRF Executive Director Bama Athreya said, "We hope that the Department of Labor will continue to welcome additional information regarding the sectors included on the list as well as other industries using forced and child labor. A regular, at least annual, update of this list will help to show progress or lack thereof in addressing these abuses and identify new areas on which to focus."
I'll close this off with a quotation from Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis who said today, "Child labor and forced labor are inexcusable abuses of human rights, and these reports show that they continue to be a problem in 21st century society. We must do everything in our power to end these shameful practices... It is also important to note that these are global challenges. All countries — including the United States — face situations of labor abuses. Allowing such practices to persist impedes the development of decent employment that can support families both in the U.S. and abroad."