CLC PRESS RELEASE: Child Labor Coalition applauds progress in child labor remediation suggested by US government’s 2013 Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor

For immediate release: October 14, 2014
Contact: Reid Maki, (202) 207-2820, reidm@nclnet.org

Washington, DC–The Child Labor Coalition (CLC), whose 34 member organizations fight exploitative child labor, welcomed news in the US Department of Labor’s 2013 Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor report released last week, suggesting significant progress is being made in the war to reduce child labor internationally. “The report is another sign that good progress is being made in efforts to reduce child labor around the world,” said Sally Greenberg, co-chair of the CLC and executive director of the National Consumers League.

According to USDOL, nine percent of the countries assessed—nearly one in 10—reported “significant advancement” in their child labor responses, and half of the countries assessed experienced moderate advancement. Nearly six in 10 countries assessed made significant or moderate advancement; 36 percent—just over one in three—were judged to have made minimal or no advancement.

“The numbers look even better if you dig a little deeper,” said Greenberg. “The 13 countries that USDOL said had made significant advancement are mostly ones that have battled substantial child labor problems—advancement in those countries (Albania, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cote d’Ivoire, Ecuador, El Salvador, Peru, Philippines, South Africa, Tunisia, and Uganda) is very encouraging.”

“Likewise,” Greenberg said, “the 13 countries that made no advancement included only five countries with large numbers of child laborers: the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uzbekistan, and Venezuela.” The other eight countries on this list include several small island nations. “If you compare numbers between the 2011 assessment period and the new report covering 2013,” said Greenberg, “the progress is dramatic: the number of countries making significant child labor advancement went from two to 13; those making moderate advancement went from 47 to 72. Those are encouraging results.”

“We are heartened by the progress that has been made on combating child labor, but there is much more to do,” said Judy Gearhart, chair of the CLC’s International Issues Committee and executive director of the International Labor Rights Forum. “We are concerned that resources are not reaching those most in need because much of the decline in child labor has been among children whose barriers to exiting child labor were relatively low. Meanwhile, the most impoverished, vulnerable children continue working. We must have a holistic, robust approach to battling child labor that includes strategies to address economic injustice and ensure decent work for parents.”

“We still have 168 million children in the world trapped in exploitative child labor; another 85 million labor in hazardous work,” said CLC coordinator Reid Maki. “Nearly 40 percent of the assessed countries are not doing enough to protect children from employment. Uzbekistan, a country USDOL assessed to have made ‘no advancement’ in 2013, remains a great concern,” he added. “While it has made some progress in reducing forced labor of younger children during this year’s harvest (which is not covered in the report), older teens and young adults are still being forced to harvest the country’s cotton crop in a form of temporary slavery.”

“The breadth of child labor abuses throughout the world remains unconscionable so any progress is welcome, said Dr. Lorretta Johnson, secretary-treasurer, American Federation of Teachers, and co-chair of the Child Labor Coalition. “More improvement will come when universal, free public education is provided as a right, not a privilege, and governments and cultures reinforce the importance of a quality education. Education is the best weapon to eliminate poverty, inequality and child exploitation,” said Johnson.

USDOL does not grade the progress of the United States in the report, which is mandated by the Trade and Development Act of 2000. It does however talk about the “US experience” in two of the report’s thousand pages, acknowledging that there is child labor in the United States, particularly in agriculture.

“As we attempt to reduce child labor abroad, we must work to eliminate child labor here,” said Norma Flores López, the CLC’s Domestic Issues Committee chair and the director of the Children in the Fields Campaign for the Association of Farmworker Opportunity Programs. “The United States falls behind other countries in protecting children by allowing them to perform back-breaking work in agriculture for wages at the age of 12, and hazardous work at the age of 16. These child workers often use razor-sharp tools and suffer exposure to toxic pesticides and heat stress. As highlighted by Human Rights Watch’s recent report, child farm workers toil in US tobacco fields, where children regularly suffer nicotine poisoning—a great concern to the coalition. We urge the Obama Administration to honor its commitment to improving the lives of the most vulnerable children and quickly implement better safeguards.”

To learn more about child labor in US tobacco fields, see a recent report, “Tobacco’s Hidden Children: Hazardous Child Labor in United States Tobacco Farming,” by CLC member Human Rights Watch.

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