NCL Expresses Grave Concern about Bolivia’s Decision to Lower the Age of Work to Ten

Washington, DC—The National Consumers League (NCL), the nation’s oldest consumer advocacy organization with a long history of fighting to improve child labor laws in the US and abroad, decries the decision last week by Bolivia to enact a new law that lowers the age of work from 14 to 10.

“Ten-year-olds belong in school–not in mines, forests, and factories. Bolivia’s baffling action is a huge step backward and endangers the country’s 500,000 to 850,000 working children,” said NCL Executive Director Sally Greenberg, who is also the co-chair of the Child Labor Coalition (CLC), which NCL has co-chaired for 25 years. “In the last decade, the world has made remarkable progress in reducing abusive child labor by one-third, according to estimates by the International Labour Organization.”

“Our great fear is that the health and safety of Bolivia’s many thousands of children in hazardous work–like mining–will be endangered as a larger number of children sent out to work by their families will be legally employed,” said Reid Maki, NCL’s Director of Child Labor Advocacy and the coordinator of the CLC. The US Department of Labor lists nuts, bricks, corn, gold, silver, sugarcane, tin and zinc as products produced with child labor in the country–children are already doing some of the most grueling work in the world in Bolivia.”

“Bolivian government officials have said that they are unable to control child labor and that lowering the age of work will lead to greater protection of child workers because their work will now be legal,” noted NCL’s Greenberg. “Essentially, the government of Bolivia is surrendering. The level of exploitation will increase, and children will pay the price.”

“We also do not accept the argument that legal child labor is a necessary tool to reduce poverty in Bolivia, which ranks 70th on the ‘fragile states index,’ an annual ranking of the stability and the pressures countries face,” said NCL’s Maki. If 69 countries facing greater problems than Bolivia have not had to lower the age of work, surely Bolivia does not.”

“I’d like to remind the global community of the words of Hull House reformer Grace Abbott, an early child labor advocate in the US,” said Greenberg. “If you continue to use the labor of children as the treatment for…poverty, you will have both until the end of time,” she told us.

For release: July 22, 2013
Contact: NCL, Director of Child Labor Advocacy, Reid Maki, and 202.207.2820


CLC Joins other NGOs in Applauding Downgrade of Thailand in 2014 Trafficking Report Rankings

Letter to Secretary of State John Kerry regarding Thailand’s downgrade in the 2014 TIP Report
Publication Date:
June 20, 2014

Dear Secretary Kerry:

We write today to applaud the U.S. State Department’s decision to downgrade Thailand to Tier 3 in the 2014 Global Trafficking in Persons Report. This decision is justified and an important step in international efforts to persuade the Royal Thai Government to begin making the difficult, but necessary, changes needed to bring themselves into compliance with the minimum standards of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act.

We also believe the Tier 3 ranking, as well as the research and recommendations contained in the report, will be an important informational tool for international and Thai institutions, companies and investors that continue to press Thai authorities to move beyond their current approach. It comes at an opportune time. In the last year, reports from, CNN, BBC, Reuters, The Associated Press and The Guardian have drawn unprecedented attention to the issue. To truly make sufficient progress in addressing human trafficking, the Thai Government should implement reforms in the areas highlighted both in the 2013 TIP Report and our last letter to you. These reforms have been repeatedly recommended by the U.S. State Department, other governments, NGOs, trade unions, and international bodies: improving victim identification and protection; fighting corruption; reforming immigration policies; and revising labor laws.

Given these priorities, we believe the United States should also emphasize to Thailand the importance of ratifying the International Labour Organization’s new legally-binding protocol to Convention 29 on Forced Labor in its upcoming discussions with the Thai Government. If Thailand were to ratify the protocol and bring its laws into compliance, it would help address many of the issues above, and be an important tool for those on the ground working to bring justice to victims of human trafficking. The United States should also press Thailand to amend the Labor Relations Act of 1975 to allow non-Thai nationals to organize and lead labor unions, and participate in collective bargaining, so that migrant workers would be in a better position to defend themselves against exploitative employers, and ratify ILO Conventions 87 (Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize) and 98 (Right to Organize and Collective Bargaining).

We thank you for your efforts at combating human trafficking, as well as the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor; the Ambassador at Large and Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons; the East Asian and Pacific Affairs, and the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok for your ongoing efforts to raise these issues with your counterparts and bring about the change needed on the ground to prevent human trafficking in Thailand.

American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO)
Child Labor Coalition (CLC)
Fairfood International
Fair World Project
Food Chain Workers Alliance (FCWA)
Green America
Human Rights Watch
Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR)
International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF)
National Consumers League (NCL)
Slave Free Seas
Synod of Victoria and Tasmania Uniting Church in Australia


Petition Asking World Leaders to Work Toward the Rescue of the Kidnapped Nigerian Girls

In Nigeria, over 200 girls were recently abducted from their boarding school and are reported to be eventually sold as brides for as little as $12 each. This petition calls on all World Leaders and enabled parties to rescue them. More than one million individuals have signed this petition. Will you add your voice and ask for action? Sign by going here.


Jo Becker of Human Rights Watch: Putting 10-Year-olds to Work Doesn’t Solve Poverty

The Bolivian Congress passed a misguided bill last week that would allow children as young as 10 to work legally. If President Morales signs the bill into law, Bolivia will become the only country in the world with a legal employment age so low.

Supporters of the bill argue that children in Bolivia need to work out of economic necessity and lowering the working age can help address extreme poverty. But child labor isn’t a solution to poverty – research shows it perpetuates it. Children who work are more likely to miss out on school and end up in a lifetime of low-wage work.

Bolivia’s bill includes certain “safeguards,” such as parental consent and the voluntary participation of children. But “voluntary” consent means little in the case of a 10-year-old. In my research, I’ve found that young children are rarely able to resist family pressure to go to work. A young girl I interviewed in Morocco, for example, endured beatings from her employer and worked extreme hours because she felt obliged to help her family.

The bill also states that work by young children should not interfere with their education. But studies show that, even when working children have access to school, their education suffers. Children who work are often too tired to complete their homework or maintain regular attendance, and are far more likely to drop out of school.

Child labor may be seen as a short-term solution to economic hardship, but is actually a cause of poverty. People who start work as children end up with less education and lower earnings as adults. They are then more likely to send their own children to work, perpetuating the cycle of poverty from generation to generation.

Bolivia’s move is out of step with the rest of the world. Other countries have successfully addressed both child labor and poverty by expanding opportunities for education, by providing poor families with cash transfers that can alleviate the economic desperation that often drives them to send their children to work, and by effective enforcement of child labor laws.

Poor families may understandably be tempted to send their children to work in order to put food on the table. If the law says it’s okay, they will be even more likely to do so. Instead of facilitating child labor, the Bolivian government should be investing in real solutions to lift children and their families out of poverty. President Morales should not sign this misguided bill into law.

You may also read this blog on Human Rights Watch’s web site.


Teen Safety: Preventing Workplace Violence

By Julie Duffy, Child Labor Coalition Intern

Julie Duffy

No one expected 18 year-old Christina LoBrutto’s first overnight shift at the Pathmark grocery store in Old Bridge, New Jersey to be her last. Sadly, however, the recent high school graduate lost her life after being fatally shot by a co-worker suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). LoBrutto’s tragic and deadly story of workplace violence is not as uncommon as you might think. 

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), over 2 million Americans workers, as young as 15, report being victims of workplace violence each year. OSHA classifies workplace violence as “any act or threat of physical violence, harassment, intimidation, or other threatening disruptive behavior that occurs at the work site.” The United States Department of Labor cites workplace violence as the fourth leading cause in workplace deaths. Teens are often the most susceptible to workplace violence because they are not properly trained in workplace safety and activism. Proper training, for both teens and their employers could save many young lives.

On June 23rd, David Michaels, Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA, and teen safety peer educators held a phone press conference on how to prevent workplace violence. The panel stressed the importance of training programs about workplace safety. Such training programs can teach teens about identifying an unsafe work environment and how to voice their concerns to their employers. Training programs can also help educate employers on how to maintain a safe workplace. Under OSHA’s mandates, employers have the responsibility to provide a safe place of employment free from recognized hazards, including workplace violence. This could mean increased use of safety cameras, working alarms, workplace panic buttons, or the presence of security guards.  

Since 1978 the Susan Harwood Training Grant Program has trained over 1.8 million workers and employers about how to recognize and prevent health and safety hazards in their workplaces. This summer “Teens Lead @ Work,” a project of Massachusetts Committee for Occupational Safety and Health, plans to educate 540 younger workers between the ages 15-22 on workplace safety in Massachusetts. When it comes to ending workplace violence empowerment is key. Teens should feel confident in the safety of their work environment and comfortable addressing their employers when they feel their workplace is unsafe.