Here we examine specific countries in which child labor is a problem.

The Impact of COVID-19 on Child Labor

By Ellie Murphy, CLC Intern

Combatting child labor during a global pandemic is a staggering challenge. In countries like Ghana, the Ivory Coast, Bangladesh—and dozens more struggling with child labor problems—school cancellations and lost family income may push children into the labor market. Once in, it may be hard for them to get out and return to school. In the face of this dire emergency, governments, the corporate world, and charitable institutions will need to support vulnerable families during this unprecedented time.  

CLC intern Ellie Murphy

There is a strong correlation between access to education and preventing child labor. An estimated 1.5 billion children are out of school. “Lack of access to education keeps the cycle of exploitation, illiteracy and poverty going – limiting future options and forcing children to accept low-wage work as adults and to raise their own children in poverty,” noted the children’s advocacy group Their World

With 9 in 10 children across the globe prevented from attending school in person, Human Rights Watch notes that interrupting formal education will have a huge impact on children and jeopardize their opportunity for better employment opportunities in the future: “For many children, the COVID-19 crisis will mean limited or no education, or falling further behind their peers.”

With many parents losing their jobs, children will face increasing pressure to supplement family incomes. Poverty is the single greatest cause of child labor. “Children work because their survival and that of their families depend on it, and in many cases because unscrupulous adults take advantage of their vulnerability,” notes the International Labour Organization.

Countries are being impacted by COVID-19 differently, but developing countries are expected to feel more negative consequences than developed countries, according to a WorldAtlas.com report, “How Are Third-World Countries Affected by COVID-19?” Tourism and trade helps fuel many of these economies and COVID is devastating both sectors.

Developing countries—primarily in Africa and Asia—already house 90 percent of working children, according to the International Journal of Health Sciences. Economic pressure from the pandemic will likely drive even more children into the work force.

Before the pandemic, child labor in West Africa was widespread—1.2 million child laborers were employed by cocoa farms in the Ivory Coast and 900,000 children on cocoa farms in Ghana, according to researchers from Tulane University. Ghana and the Ivory Coast produce about 60% of the world’s cocoa—a critical ingredient in chocolate. A recent Voice of America (VOA) article included predications that “…there will be increased economic pressures on farming families, and ongoing school closures in Ghana mean children are more likely to accompany their parents to their farms and be exposed to hazardous activities.”

 The VOA cited research by the International Cocoa Initiative that analyzed the impacts of income loss on child labor rates in the Ivory Coast and found that a 10% drop in income for families in the cocoa industry is expected to produce a 5% increase in child labor.  

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After 20 Years of Little Results, New Approaches are Needed to End Child Labor in the Cocoa Sector

Here at the National Consumers League we are very proud that we’ve been a leader in the fight to end child labor since our founding in 1899. Thrity one years ago, we established the Child Labor Coalition (CLC), which merges the resources of nearly 40 groups that are committed to the fight to eliminate child labor. The CLC brings together several major unions and a variety of child rights and human rights groups to perform child labor advocacy.

In the last few years, the coalition has focused increasing energy on child labor in cocoa.  In 2001, news broke that cocoa–the main ingredient in chocolate–was being produced, in part, by large numbers of children who were trapped in the worst forms of child labor in West Africa. An alarmed U.S. Congress decided to act.  First, it threatened to mandate labels on candy bars to help consumers purchase child-labor-free chocolate.

The chocolate industry fought hard to derail the labeling system. In its place, Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY) launched a multi-stakeholder initiative called the Harken-Engel Protocol. Eventually, it brought together the chocolate industry, the governments of Ghana and the Ivory Coast (where 70 percent of the world’s cocoa was produced) and the U.S. Department of Labor to try to tackle the problem. Over the next decade, over $70 million would be spent to fix cocoa’s child labor problem.

Child cocoa workers in West Africa. Photo by Robin Romano.

Despite these efforts, a creeping sense that remediation strategies weren’t really working began to emerge. In 2015, Tulane University researchers issued a federally-funded report that said the number of children in child labor in West African cocoa numbered over two million and had not declined. One bright spot was noted: most children in Ghana were attending school but in Ghana and the Ivory Coast children continued to toil, often without pay, and continued to use machetes, carry heavy loads, and apply pesticides—things that made their work dangerous.

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10 Facts about Child Labor in Turkey’s Hazelnut Production

  • Child labor in Turkey remains prevalent. In 2012, around 900,000 children worked in Turkey. 45 percent of Child laborers worked in agriculture. Children make up to 8.5 percent of the workforce in hazelnut supply chains.
  • Two to three million Turkish agricultural workers derive some income from hazelnut production. Seasonal agricultural workers are especially dependent on hazelnut production.
  • The majority of these harvesters are from the southeast region of Turkey which borders Syria. However, hazelnuts are grown throughout the eastern and westerns regions along the Black Sea, requiring harvesters to migrate throughout the season. Syrian refugee children and other immigrant children are vulnerable to exploitation in the agricultural sector.
  • Syrian refugee and other children were also vulnerable to exploitation in the agriculture sector, where Syrian families tended to receive lower pay and live in worse conditions than Turkish workers.
  • Migratory workers tend to travel with their families. Children often work in the fields with their parents to increase their family income.  However, the harsh nature and span of seasonal migratory work inhibit the development of these children.
  • 90 percent of hazelnut harvesters work 11 hours per day; 99 percent of harvesters work 7 days a week. Children often work the same hours as their parents and are often, unable to attend school.  Even when a child is not working alongside their parents, the migratory nature of seasonal agricultural work does not allow children to consistently attend school.
  • Seasonal migrant laborers involved in the hazelnut supply chain are typically involved in other agricultural supply chains.
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Holiday Shopping? Some Strategies to Consider if you are Concerned about Child Labor and Want to Shop Responsibly

With the holidays approaching and many Americans scrambling to buy presents, we get many questions from consumers who are interested in shopping responsibly. Newly released data suggests that there are about 40 million individuals in forced labor and 152 million children who are trapped in child labor in the world today. How can one avoid buying products that may contribute to this rampant exploitation?

The U.S. Department of Labor “Sweat and Toil” app provides valuable advice to consumers about products made with child labor and forced labor.

Unfortunately, there is no clear and simple answer. The supply chains of many companies have multiple layers of production–even reaching into people’s homes–and it’s extremely difficult to monitor this work at all the levels.

Fortunately, there are some tools out there to help consumers. One of the best is the U.S. Department of Labor’s “Sweat and Toil” phone app. It informs consumers about 130-plus goods that are produced with child labor or forced labor. It will also tell consumers which countries produce those goods and then ranks those countries on how well their efforts to reduce child labor are going. You can access this information on your computer by clicking here. More than 1,000 pages of valuable information is contained on the site.

If you are about to go clothes shopping, you can quickly look up which countries have been identified as producing clothes with child labor: Argentina, Bangladesh, India, Thailand, and Vietnam. Seven countries used forced labor to produce garments—you’ll have to go to the site or use the app to figure out which ones. It’s actually remarkably easy to use. Please down load the “Sweat and Toil” app now—before you forget!

The site and app will help you learn some of the most common products of child labor. Gold, for example, is produced by child mining in 21 countries. Cotton or cottonseed in 18 countries. Coffee is produced by child labor in 16 countries. The data, unfortunately has some limitations. For the most part, it does not list assembled products. For example, many of the metals and minerals that help make your smart phone and the batteries that help it work are on the list, but assembled cell phones are not.

Consumers looking to buy handmade carpets should look for the GoodWeave label to ensure that rugs are not made with child labor.

We get a lot of questions about product labeling. Why can’t consumers buy a product labelled “child-labor free?”  GoodWeave, a nonprofit member of the Child Labor Coalition, issues labels that help consumers buy carpets (and coming soon other products) that are child-labor free. GoodWeave has strict standards and inspection systems, that reach every worker from the factory to village to home. When they find child labor they eliminate it and provide remediation and long-term rehabilitation for the former child laborers. Their programs go well beyond others, ensuring communities across South Asia are “child friendly” and that all children are going to school and learning. It wasn’t that long ago that there were one million children weaving hand-made carpets under slave-like conditions. That number today is believed to be less than 200,000. GoodWeave has transformed the lives of thousands of children in partnership with over 150 brands and retailers. In a few years, we may have several more product lines that we can say with some certainty are child-labor free.

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