When you picture workers wielding machetes in farm fields, lifting cement blocks at construction sites or descending wooden ladders deep into mine shafts, chances are you don’t picture children. Yet, millions of children worldwide face such hazardous work conditions every day. Others are sold as slaves, trafficked as prostitutes, or sent into armed conflict.
The International Labor Organization estimates that about 215 million children around the world toil in child labor. Of these, more than half work in dangerous conditions. And new data released by the ILO this year estimates that 21 million people are trapped in forced labor, including 6 million children.
People across the world understand that forced labor is an abuse of human rights. Most agree that children should not be exploited in work that threatens their lives, health and ability to become productive adults. However, these abuses persist.
Today, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of International Labor Affairs released reports that shine a spotlight on these problems and on what can be done to solve them.
The first report is the 2011 Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor. It details how 144 countries and territories are working to eliminate the worst forms of child labor. The report describes where child labor exists in each country and what laws, policies, social programs and enforcement tools are in place to combat it.
During my tenure as Secretary of Labor, we have revised this report to make it more useful. In 2010, we introduced a list of specific steps that governments could take to stop the worst forms of child labor.
This year, we have made another important improvement. Each country profile now begins with an assessment. This allows us to better track each country’s progress from year to year. Now we can see, at a glance, whether a country has made significant, moderate, minimal, or no advancement in eliminating the worst forms of child labor.
The second report is an updated List of Goods Produced by Child or Forced Labor. It covers 134 goods in 74 countries. The update adds 4 goods (baked goods, beef, fish, and thread/yarn) and 3 new countries (South Sudan, Suriname, and Vietnam). This list helps foreign governments, companies, labor unions, civil society organizations and consumers make more informed decisions about the goods they produce and consume.
Lastly, we are publishing a proposed update of the List of Products Produced by Forced or Indentured Child Labor. This list helps to ensure that U.S. federal agencies do not buy goods made by forced or indentured child labor.
Reporting is only one of the vital tools we use to protect workers worldwide. Since 1995, the Department of Labor has funded more than 250 projects in over 90 countries, which have benefited almost 1.5 million children worldwide. These efforts remove children from exploitative labor and provide them with education and other services.
I’m very proud of the role the Labor Department plays in helping to end child labor. But our efforts wouldn’t be possible without the right information. That’s why the reports we’ve released are so important.
These reports spur action and change. They help turn a moral imperative to into effective policy. They help focus the efforts of governments, donors, advocates and international organizations. And they keep us focused as we continue working to combat the worst forms of child labor.