U.S. Department of Labor Holds Conference to Unveil New Child Labor Findings

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Globalization has now linked the fate of workers everywhere,” said Carol Pier, deputy undersecretary for International Affairs for the United States Department of Labor (DOL), at a conference held Wednesday to announce findings from new reports detailing the global challenges of enforced and exploitative child labor.

According to the most recent International Labor Organization statistics, there are approximately 215 million child laborers across the globe, with almost half working in dangerous conditions. 

“Children are still using machetes and spraying pesticides at farms,” said U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis. “They are still sold as slaves and trafficked as prostitutes.” 

Solis said that approximately 21 million people across the globe are currently “trapped” in forced labor, including an estimated six million children. She then introduced three new reports from the Department of Labor, including an updated annual child labor report and a revised list of goods produced by child and slave labor. She also proposed updates to federal contractor certification criteria, which would create tighter monitoring of nations and manufacturers that assemble products using enforced labor.

Solis said that when children are forced to work instead of being able to pursue education, they often find themselves trapped in cyclical poverty, which she cited as “the primary reason why children are forced to work.”

U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) said that an estimated 115 million children are employed in hazardous working conditions, stating that he found it “unconscionable” that children were trafficked in India and involved in commercial fishing in Thailand. The new reports, he said, document the “global scope” of child labor, praising them for singling out specific countries and industries for continually employing children in dangerous working environments.

Harkin said that it was time for Congress to ensure that child-produced goods stay out of the United States, adding that the United States “should not turn a blind eye” to the plight of exploited and enforced laborers.

“To me, this really moves us so many light years ahead in attacking this global scourge of child labor,” he said.

Gayle Smith, special assistant to the president and senior director at the National Security Council, said that creating developmental policies that encouraged “sustained and inclusive economic growth and strong institutions” were vital in combating child exploitation and labor. She called for more collaboration between agencies to improve labor laws and working conditions across the globe, stating that policies promoting broad-based economic growth and legal recourses to challenge child labor demonstrated a global “intent to invest in a civilized world.” 

Ian Solomon, U.S. executive director at the World Bank, said that anti-child labor policies were a “moral and strategic” imperative for the United States, calling measures to combat exploitative and enforced labor both strategic and economic development priorities. 

“Inequality and poverty go hand in hand,” he said.

Solomon said that a greater emphasis on inclusive economic growth, operational policies and social safeguards was necessary to eliminate forced labor and the worst forms of child labor. He concluded by saying that “improving investments in children and youth” should be an issue that governs lending and shapes the kind of projects the United States supports in other countries.

Photo from the U.S. Department of Labor's International Labor Organization findings