Making Universal Children’s Day Meaningful

by Jonathan Todres

November 20th is Universal Children’s Day. The U.N. established Universal Children’s Day in 1954 to create a day of “activity devoted to the promotion of the ideals and objectives of the [U.N.] Charter and the welfare of children of the world.” Worthwhile goals, but as there are now more than 125 international observance days, it is fair to ask whether Universal Children’s Day makes a difference.

Jonathan Todres

Jonathan Todres

Universal Children’s Day presents an opportunity to reflect on both progress made and work still to be done. Since the adoption of the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child—the most comprehensive treaty on children’s rights and well-being—on November 20, 1989, significant progress has been made on behalf of tens of millions of children around the world. Yet much more work remains. The data on infant and child mortality rates reflects this: globally, the number of deaths of children under five declined from 12.7 million in 1990 to less than 6 million in 2015. That’s vital progress, as many children now realize their most precious right—to life and survival. Yet more than five million young children still die each year, largely due to preventable causes.

But Universal Children’s Day can be much more than a day to raise awareness. It can be a day of action, a launching point for initiatives that accelerate progress on children’s rights and wellbeing. What might that look like? I have three suggestions.

First, if you are President of the United States, send the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) to the Senate for its advice and consent. The CRC is the most widely accepted human rights treaty in history. There are 196 parties to the treaty; the U.S. is the only country that hasn’t ratified it. The CRC has helped foster progress on law, policy, and programs aimed at improving children’s well-being and securing children’s rights. The U.S. signed the treaty in 1995, but it has taken no action since then (ratification is necessary to make a treaty legally binding).

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CLC Support Statement for the Restoration of Child-Labor Funding

Child Labor Coalition Statement in Support of the Restoration of

Funding for US Department of Labor’s ILAB Child-Labor Programs


The Child Labor Coalition, whose members include the following 35 groups, representing millions of Americans, supports the continued full funding and operation of the Department of Labor’s child labor programs, operated through ILAB (International Labor Affairs Bureau).

We find these invaluable programs to be a critical tool in the fight against child labor, child trafficking, and child slavery and believe they have played a significant role in the reduction of child labor by one-third—over 60 million children—since 2001.

Additional supporters follow this list of CLC members:

American Federation of Teachers

Association of Farmworker Opportunity Programs

      Bank Information Center

Beyond Borders


Communications Workers of America

Farmworker Justice

First Focus Campaign for Children

Free the Slaves

Global Campaign for Education—US

Global Fairness Initiative


Human Rights Watch

Injury Control Research Center, West Virginia University

International Brotherhood of Teamsters

International Initiative to End Child Labor

International Labor Rights Forum

Media Voices for Children

Migrant Legal Action Program

National Association of State Directors of Migrant Education

National Consumers League

National Education Association

National Migrant and Seasonal Head Start Association

The Ramsay Merriam Fund

Save the Children

Solidarity Center, AFL-CIO

United States Fund for UNICEF

United Food and Commercial Workers International Union

United Methodist Church, Board of Church and Society

United Methodist Women

United Mine Workers of America

Walden Asset Management

A World at School

Winrock International

World Vision


Additional organizational endorsements in support of restoring ILAB funding:

The Association for Childhood Education International

GlobalGirl Media

Rukmini Foundation

School Girls Unite

Youth Activism Project





Press Release: Child Labor Coalition expresses concern about child and adult workers killed in recent factory collapse in Pakistan


Photo from BBC, “Pakistan Lahore factory collapse: Hopes dim for survivors,” 5 November 2015






For immediate release: November 6, 2015
Contact: Child Labor Coalition Coordinator Reid Maki, (202) 207-2820

Washington, DC—The Child Labor Coalition (CLC) laments the tragic deaths that occurred Wednesday in the collapse of a plastic-bag factory in Lahore, Pakistan. At least 23 workers died in the factory, including an unknown number of child workers. Rescuers have pulled more than 100 survivors from the rubble, but dozens of other workers still trapped are thought to remain.

Although the details are still not yet fully know, a young boy working in the factory who survived the incident told reporters that dozens of children were among the 150 workers trapped in the collapsed building. Several reports mentioned children as young as 12 working in the factory.

South Asia has been the scene of a number of factory tragedies in recent years. In 2013, more than 1,100 workers died in the Rana factory collapse in Dhaka, Bangladesh. In 2012, more than 100 workers died in the Tazreen fire just outside of Dhaka. That same year, 289 people were killed in a fire in Karachi, Pakistan, and on the same day, a shoe factory fire in Lahore killed 25 workers.

“This latest Lahore collapse highlights the vulnerability of factory workers,” said Sally Greenberg, co-chair of the CLC and executive director of the National Consumers League. “Factories must be inspected regularly, and officials should be on the constant lookout for children working in these unsafe environments. Young children should not be dying in factory collapses; they should not be working in factories at all. Western consumers bear some responsibility for creating the awful conditions that lead to these tragedies because of the constant demand for the cheapest-possible products produced at great speed.”

“The conditions that lead to these kinds of tragedies are a violation of human rights, they are avoidable, and they must stop,” said Dr. Lorretta Johnson, secretary-treasurer of the American Federation of Teachers, a co-chair of the Child Labor Coalition.  “We know that change is possible, and we call upon the government of Pakistan to press its efforts to ensure a culture of rights, not only through inspection and monitoring of factories, but also by the critical elimination of exploitative child labor.”

“In Pakistan, according to data provided by the U.S. Department of Labor, only 72 percent of children between 5 and 14 attend school,” said Reid Maki, CLC coordinator. “Two and a half million children between 10 and 14 are estimated to work. Tragic deaths of children like those in the factory collapse in Lahore will continue without a concerted effort to remove children from exploitative work and get more children into school.”


Film Review: The True Cost — Film Explores the Hidden Price of Cheap Clothes

Sharon Fawcett

Sharon Fawcett


Released 2015 | Rating: PG-13 (thematic elements and disturbing images)

Written and directed by Andrew Morgan | Produced by Michael Ross | 92 minutes

Review by Sharon L. Fawcett

One in six people on the planet work in the global fashion supply chain, making fashion the most labor-dependent industry on earth. “The True Cost”—a breathtaking and heartbreaking documentary—reveals how consumer fashion choices impact these workers, the rest of us, and our world.

Eighty billion garments are purchased each year globally—400 percent more than two decades ago. The industry that once had two fashion seasons annually now has 52 as retailers peddle new product weekly, supplying shoppers with an endless fix of inexpensive clothing.

What is the consequence of this fashion obsession—the true cost of “fast fashion?” According to the documentary, it is the suicides of hundreds of thousands of Indian cotton farmers unable to escape debts to biotechnology and agrochemical companies, the decimation of local garment industries in low-income countries swamped by donations of cast-off clothing, and the toll taken on the earth’s ecosystems as every step in a garment’s life threatens them.

The-True-CostThe enormous quantities of chemicals and natural resources used to produce the raw material for clothing (such as cotton and leather), manufacture the product, and ship goods worldwide, have made the fashion industry the second most polluting industry on earth, second only to the fossil fuel industry. They have also led to high rates of disease and disability among people exposed to this pollution—people who often cannot afford medical treatment.

The true cost of fast fashion is also borne by garment factory workers laboring with few protections in hazardous conditions, often not earning enough to meet their families’ basic needs. While the profits earned by fashion companies increase, the wages paid to those who make the clothing decline as the industry now outsources nearly all of its manufacturing to factories in low-income countries.

Reflecting on recent disasters that have killed and injured thousands of vulnerable garment factory workers in Bangladesh, 23-year-old Shima Akhter, a factory worker profiled in the film, says, “People have no idea how difficult it is for us to make the clothing. They only buy it and wear it. I don’t want anyone wearing anything that is made with our blood.”

One noteworthy omission in the documentary is a discussion on the use of child labor in fashion supply chains. While “The True Cost” devotes a significant amount of attention to the environmental and health impacts of cotton growing on farmers and surrounding communities, it fails to mention forced labor and child labor in cotton fields. The 2014 “List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor,” a report by the United States Department of Labor (USDOL), indicates there are currently nine countries where children are involved in the production of cotton, and in one of them (India) children are also involved in the production of hybrid cottonseed.

UNICEF reports children are involved in all stages of the fashion supply chain, from producing cottonseed; harvesting cotton crops; spinning yarn; and assembling, embroidering, smocking, and beading garments. According to the USDOL report, there are five countries that use child labor to make garments. These children often work long hours in dangerous conditions with no protection. In some cases their work amounts to modern-day slavery or forced labor.

Consumers do have the power to make a difference. The film recommends reduced clothing consumption and introduces companies and designers working on a new fair fashion model. Designer Stella McCartney states, “The customer has to know they are in charge. If they don’t like it and don’t buy it, we don’t have jobs.”

To learn more about the film, the impacts of the fast fashion industry, and how to “buy better,” visit the movie website: