Brazil Child Labor Conference Plenary Statement by CLC Member Jo Becker Urges Three Actions

Jo Becker, Human Rights Watch

[Jo Becker delivered the following speech October 9, 2013 at the III Global Conference on Child Labor in Brasilia, Brazil].

I’m pleased to be able to speak on behalf of Human Rights Watch. Over the last decade, we have documented child labor in more than 25 countries, in all regions of the world. In hundreds of interviews, we have seen how these children put their health, their educations, their safety and sometimes their lives at risk. We have met children harvesting sugarcane who have gashes on their legs from sharp machetes; children picking tobacco who suffer nicotine poisoning; children who have climbed into deep mining shafts for gold, only to have them collapse; and child domestic workers who travel long distances from their families, only to be beaten and sexually abused by their employers.

We welcome the progress that has been made in reducing the numbers of children in child labor, including its worst forms. However, we are deeply concerned about the 168 million children who are still engaged in child labor, including the 85 million who are in hazardous conditions.

In particular, we want to highlight three situations:

1)      Child domestic workers: The new ILO report finds that child labor rates are going down, with one exception – the numbers of child domestic workers increased by over 1 million in the last four years. Hidden in private homes, these children are often excluded from labor laws, at increased risk of abuse, but the least likely to get help.

2)      Children in agriculture: In the United States, we have documented how, because of an exception in the child labor law, children who work for hire on farms work at far younger ages, for far longer hours, and under far more hazardous conditions than children in any other job. Like in the US in many countries, children in agriculture become sick from pesticide and nicotine exposure. Despite their huge numbers, they are often overlooked in efforts to end child labor and unprotected by child labor laws.

3)      Children in small-scale gold mining: Over 1 million children worldwide work in mining, one of the most dangerous forms of child labor.  In Mali, Ghana, and Tanzania, we found children not only digging ore from deep unstable shafts, but also using toxic mercury. Children mix mercury with their bare hands to create a gold-mercury amalgam, and breathe in the toxic mercury fumes when they burn the amalgam to recover the gold.  Exposure to toxic mercury can cause irreversible brain damage and puts the lives of these children at risk.

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CLC International Issues Committee Chair Judy Gearhart Addresses Child Labor at the III Global Conference on Child Labor in Brazil

Judy Gearhart addressing more than 1,300 delegates at the Third Global Conference on Child Labor in Brazil.

[The CLC’s Judy Gearhart delivered the following speech during the plenary session October 9th at the III Global Conference on Child Labor in Brazil:]



I am grateful for the opportunity to speak on behalf of my organization, the International Labor Rights Forum and as a representative of the US Child Labor Coalition, where I chair the international issues committee. Brothers and sisters in the fight against child labor, we are making progress, but the progress is not enough. There are still 168 million child laborers; 85 million of them toiling under hazardous conditions.

I want to congratulate Brazil on its progress in reducing the incidence of child labor.

Fifteen years ago I had the good fortune to organize a conference on labor standards and corporate accountability in Sao Paulo. We were lucky to have Oded Grajew, the founder of Abrinq Foundation and a leader in the fight against child labor in Brazil. He spoke eloquently and with commitment about how reducing child labor in Brazil would require reducing inequality as well.

Today, we see progress in Brazil in both the reduction of inequality and the reduction of child labor. Sadly, this is not the case in my country, the US, where inequality has been increasing since the 1970s, and we are still not able to push through basic protections for the child laborers who continue to toil in US fields.

So even though the new ILO statistics show that child labor is highest in poor countries, there are still hidden pockets connected to poverty in rich countries. Clearly, this is a fight we all share.

In the fight against child labor, we need to address the root causes of child labor; to improve the income, the livelihood opportunities and the health of the parents of child laborers. In short, we need to raise the price that farmers earn and the wages workers receive. It is not enough to take the children out of the fields. We need to look at their welfare and future opportunities.

The ILO reports that 60 percent of child labor takes place in the agricultural sector. So I ask that we all look at agriculture policies holistically; at how to improve rural life and recognize the skills and dignity of farmers and farm workers.

Brothers and sisters, the conference declaration makes clear that we all have a responsibility to continue the fight against child labor: government, employers, trade unions and NGOs. But in the fight for decent work and a more equitable sharing of prosperity, it is the employers who have a disproportionately greater influence – especially the global corporations.

And here I want to address the governments of the poorest countries where the work to eliminate child labor is most challenging. We, the civil society groups from rich countries, do not call for greater employer accountability for protectionist reasons. To the contrary, we are working to pressure global corporations – most of them based in rich countries – to invest more, to pay better, to help improve the livelihoods of workers in their supply chains, and to join us in reducing inequalities in all the countries where they have a presence.

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CLC Co-Chair Dr. Lorretta Johnson’s Plenary Speech at the Brazil Child Labor Conference

Dr. Johnson (far right) pictured here with CLC members Jackie Starr, Norma Flores Lopez, Judy Gearhart, and Reid Maki (left to right)

Child labor advocates from around the world were allowed to give four-minute plenary speeches during the 2013 Brazil Child Labor conference. Three members of the CLC gave speeches: Dr. Lorretta Johnson, Judy Gearhart, and Jo Becker. The latter two will be posted here in the coming days.

Hello, everyone! My name is Dr. Lorretta Johnson, secretary-treasurer for the American Federation of Teachers.

I’m also co-chair for the Child Labor Coalition, an organization dedicated to stopping the exploitation of children in the workforce around the world.

Today, as we all know, millions of children are being pushed, pulled, prodded, or worse into the labor force.

There are children making bricks under the searing sun in Pakistan…

There are children who manufacture clothing in dangerous factories over in Bangladesh…

There are children who are forced to pick cotton in Uzbekistan…

There are children forced to perform as sex workers in places like Thailand, the Philippines, and Cambodia…

And even in the United States, we have hundreds of thousands of children being exploited as farmworkers and agricultural labor.

At the American Federation of Teachers, we believe every child deserves a future. We believe in a quality education for all children, regardless of where you live or who you are.

It’s the great equalizer.

But that path starts with early childhood education programs and effective community schools…

It does not start with forced labor!

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Child Labor Tools for Consumers–Apps

This phone app lets you browse companies and how they scored on labor policies, as well as get updates from activists and check out videos and photos from the field. delivers product ratings as you shop. Products receive a letter grade that any school child can understand (A through F) that is based on their protocols to eliminate forced labor and child slavery in the production of their products.

aVOID: This is a browser plug-in that screens your online shopping for products associated with the exploitation of children. It works with all major online shops (including Amazon, although I found results were inconsistent) by replacing the search results for companies linked to child-labor issues (American Apparel, it turns out) with a hand icon indicating “stop”. The app uses data from the Active Against Child Labour campaign to rank manufacturers according to their child labor violations and commitment to avoid child labor. For more info, click here.

Kid Rescue: This non-profit app encourages people to document illegal child labor by taking “geo-tagged” photographs that prove its existence. Once the information is sent, a database will be created, which can only be accessed by social workers linked to Fundación Telefónica. For more info, click here.

Yo digo: Aquí Estoy Whenever users see a child working they can take a picture with their phone and log the location, which the app sends to the country’s child welfare agency. Focuses mostly on Columbia, but extends worldwide. For more info, click here.

Chocolate List: Sponsored by the Food Empowerment Project, this app reflects Food Empowerment Project’s most recent research on companies that make vegan products containing chocolate to find out if they source their chocolate from areas where slavery can still be found. For more info, click here. To access on iTunes, go here.

Child Trafficking Awareness Course Basics: The Child Trafficking Basics app contains information to increase the opportunities to identify, engage, protect and rescue child victims of trafficking. Made by Ineqe Safe and Secure. For more info, please click here.

Slavery Footprint: This app reveals how much of a user’s lifestyle runs on forced labor through calculations and statistics. The score is calculated based on the raw materials in those products, such as the tantalum used in smartphones, which is often mined by trafficked persons. Made by Call + Response in partnership with the U.S. Department of State. For more info, click here.

[Compiled by CLC intern Monique St. Jarre, 2013]


PRESS RELEASE: Child Labor Coalition Welcomes Falling Estimates of Child Labor But Warns that Far Too Many Children Suffer the Worst Forms of Child Labor

For immediate release: September 24, 2013
Contact: Reid Maki, (202) 207-2820,

Washington, DC—The Child Labor Coalition (CLC) welcomes new estimates from the International Labour Organization that suggest a one third drop in the number of children trapped in child labor since 2000—from 248 million children to 168 million children. Over the last four years, the number of child laborers has fallen by 47 million—a 22 percent decrease.

“These ILO estimates are very encouraging,” said Sally Greenberg, co-chair of the Child Labor Coalition (CLC), and the executive director of the National Consumers League. “We know what works now and the tremendous efforts of groups around the world must continue to shine a spotlight on the awful use of child labor. Governments, NGOs, corporations, and media have all helped to drive down the numbers of children toiling in appalling conditions around the world. We must continue to work until all children are removed from exploitative labor and the worst forms of child labor—labor that exploits them or endangers their health or development. ”

“Despite progress, 85 million children remain trapped in hazardous work,” added Greenberg. “News last week that a 6-year-old boy perished in Uzbekistan’s cotton harvest is a glaring example of the danger children experience at work.”

“The number of children still engaged in child labor is staggering,” said Jo Becker, Director of the Children’s Rights Division for Human Rights Watch and a member of the CLC. “The global figures only tell part of the story. In hundreds of interviews, my colleagues and I at Human Rights Watch, have documented how these children live and the toll their work takes on their lives, their education, and their future. In Morocco last year, I spoke with Latifah, who was recruited when she was 12 to work in Casablanca as a domestic worker. She hoped it would offer her a better life, but instead she suffered beatings, verbal abuse, and toiled for 18 hours a day, cooking, doing laundry, cleaning floors, washing dishes, and caring for her employer’s children.

“The new statistics should prompt governments to take even stronger measures to end exploitation and dangerous child labor by better enforcing child labor laws, ensuring children go to school and prosecution of the employers who exploit children,” added Becker.

“The recent progress must be continued, and companies must step up their efforts to protect children,” noted Judy Gearhart, the chair of the CLC’s International Issues Committee and the executive director of the International Labor Rights Forum. Too many products—more than 130 have been identified by the US Department of Labor—are produced by children. All too often, we see lackluster responses from the corporate world when it becomes clear that supply chains include child labor. The NGO community and consumers must keep up the pressure to tackle this critical problem.

“Teachers and teacher organizations know that education is the key to human development, economic sustainability, promoting democracy, protecting human rights and finding social justice,” said Dr. Lorretta Johnson, CLC co-chair and secretary-treasurer of the American Federation of Teachers. “We cannot solve the child labor problem without education; the elimination of child labor and education-for-all are two sides of the same coin. We know this for sure: investment in education is the best investment our communities can make to help eliminate child labor.”

“Americans should be aware that in the recent past we’ve made little progress in cleaning up our own child labor problem in U.S. agriculture, noted CLC Domestic Committee Chair Norma Flores Lopez, the Children in the Fields Campaign Director for the Association of Farmworker Opportunity Programs. Weak child labor laws allow children as young as 12 to work unlimited hours while school is not in session and more than 400,000 children toil to put food on our tables. Many of these children are the sons and daughters of migrant farmworkers and these children pay a heavy price for the meager wages (often $2 or $3 an hour) they earn, often dropping out of school and suffering potential health risks because of working in fields that contain dangerous machinery and toxic pesticides.”

“The CLC urges Congress to remedy this deplorable situation by passing the Children’s Act for Responsible Employment (CARE), H.R. 2342, legislation that would close the child labor loopholes for kids not working on their family’s farm and limit hazardous work on farms by workers under the age of 18,” said Flores Lopez.