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The World Gathers to Fight Child Labor at the Fourth “Global Conference on the Sustained Eradication of Child Labour”

The world is making significant progress in removing the scourge of child labor—there are 94 million fewer child laborers today than there were 16 years ago. I believe one of the reasons for this progress is the coming together of governments, worker groups, and human rights and child rights groups every four years for an international conference for focused strategy sessions on reducing child labor. I realize that there might be some skepticism that a conference could make much difference, but hear me out.

This year’s conference, organized by the government of Argentina and the International Labour Organization, took place in Buenos Aires, Argentina November 14-16 and brought together over 150 countries and about 3,000 individuals who are in some way involved in the fight against child labor. I was there representing the Child Labor Coalition (CLC), which is co-chaired by the National Consumers League and the American Federation of Teachers, and has been fighting to reduce child labor for nearly three decades.

The CLC's Norma Flores Lopez

The CLC’s Norma Flores Lopez

The conference featured many great panels. Several were about trying to confront work in agriculture—the most ubiquitous form of child labor (comprising 70 percent of the problem. Others confronted hazardous work, which involves 73 million children—almost half of the child labor population which is currently 152 million.

The CLC’s Norma Flores Lopez, the chair of our Domestic Issues Committee, spoke movingly about her own experiences working in US fields as a child farmworker. Norma noted her belief that racial discrimination plays a part in persistence of child labor. Most children impacted by child labor are children of color, she noted. Authorities, she suggested, feel less pressure to remedy the exploitation of racial and ethnic minorities. Conference participants seemed stunned to learn that the US has a child labor problem—our lax child labor laws allow children to work in agriculture beginning at age 12 and kids are allowed to work unlimited hours as long as they do not miss school. Some children work 80-90 hour weeks, performing back-breaking labor in stifling heat.

Jo Becker, a child rights specialist for Human Rights Watch and an active member of the CLC, spoke about hazardous work and the dangers children are routinely subjected to in the fields and other dangerous locations. Becker has been a leader in campaigns to remove children from combat, from mines, and from tobacco farms in recent years. She noted that Brazil lists child tobacco work as hazardous but the U.S. does not—something that the US government needs to fix. In 2014, Human Rights Watch published a ground-breaking report, “Tobacco’s Hidden Children: Hazardous Child Labor in US Tobacco Farming,” based on interviews with children working on American tobacco farms found that more than half had suffered symptoms that correlated with nicotine poisoning.

Both Norma Flores Lopez and Sue Longley of the International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering Tobacco and Allied Workers’ Association both spoke about sexual harassment that girls and young women experience in agriculture.

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CHILD LABOR COALITION statement on new estimates of child labor

Two 13 year old boys digging for gold in a mine in Mbeya region, Tanzania. (c) 2013

Two 13 year old boys digging for gold in a mine in Mbeya region, Tanzania.

 

The Child Labor Coalition applauds progress in child labor remediation indicated by new estimates released by the International Labour Organization, but expresses concern that progress in fighting child labor is slowing

September 22, 2017
Contact: Reid Maki, (202) 207-2820, reidm@nclnet.org

(Washington, DC) The Child Labor Coalition (CLC), whose 37 member organizations fight exploitative child labor and represent millions of Americans, welcomed new child labor estimates released Tuesday, September 19th by the International Labour Organization (ILO) which found that the number of children in child labor is 10 percent lower than 2012. The CLC, however, is concerned that the pace of ending child labor has slowed decidedly.

During the period of 2000 to 2012, the ILO found “significant progress” in the reduction of child labor as the estimate of children in child labor fell from 246 million to 168 million—a reduction of 78 million. Progress was pronounced among younger children and girls, who experienced a 40 percent decline in child labor. The greatest portion of that decline occurred in the period 2008-2012, despite a global economic recession.

The new data from the ILO estimates child labor trends from 2012 to 2016 and found that child labor dropped from 168 million to 152 million—16 million fewer children representing a 10 percent drop. Between 2008 and 2012, the level dropped from 215 million to 168 million—47 million children or 22 percent. The most recent data represents a one-third reduction of the prior four years.… Read the rest

International Labour Organizaton (ILO) Experts Comment on U.S. Government Efforts to Implement Convention 182 on the Worst Forms of Child Labor

[Adopted in 2016 and published in 2017]
 
Articles 4(1), 5 and 7(1) of the Convention. Determination of types of hazardous work, monitoring mechanisms and penalties. Hazardous work in agriculture from 16 years of age. The Committee previously noted that section 213 of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) permits children aged 16 years and above to undertake, in the agricultural sector, occupations declared to be hazardous or detrimental to their health or well-being by the Secretary of Labor. The Government, referring to Paragraph 4 of the Worst Forms of Child Labour Recommendation, 1999 (No. 190), stated that Congress considered it as safe and appropriate for children from the age of 16 years to perform work in the agricultural sector. However, the Committee noted the allegation of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) that a significant number of children under 18 years were employed in agriculture under dangerous conditions, including long hours and exposure to pesticides, with risk of serious injury. The Committee also took note of the observations of the International Organisation of Employers (IOE) and the United States Council for International Business (USCIB) that section 213 of the FLSA, which was the product of extensive consultation with the social partners, is in compliance with the text of the Convention and Paragraph 4 of Recommendation No. 190.
 
The Committee took note that the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division (WHD) continued to focus on improving the safety of children working in agriculture and protecting the greatest number of agricultural workers. In addition, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) increased its focus on agriculture by creating the Office of Maritime and Agriculture (OMA) in 2012, which is responsible for the planning, development and publication of safety and health regulations covering workers in the agricultural industry, as well as guidance documents on specific topics, such as ladder safety in orchards and tractor safety.
 

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HRW Lauds New Landmark Treaty to Protect Domestic Workers Global Labor Standards for up to 100 Million People Worldwide

(Geneva, June 16, 2011) – The adoption by the International Labor Organization (ILO) on June 16, 2011, of a new, groundbreaking treaty to extend key labor protections to domestic workers will protect millions of people who have been without guarantees of their basic rights, Human Rights Watch said today. Governments, trade unions, and employers’ organizations that make up the ILO overwhelmingly voted to adopt the  ILO Convention on Decent Work for Domestic Workers, which establishes the first global standards for the estimated 50 to 100 million domestic workers worldwide, the vast majority of whom are women and girls.

ILO members spent three years developing the convention to address the routine exclusion of domestic workers from labor protections guaranteed to other workers, such as weekly days off, limits to hours of work, and a minimum wage. Domestic workers face a wide range of grave abuses and labor exploitation, including excessive working hours without rest, non-payment of wages, forced confinement, physical and sexual abuse, forced labor, and trafficking.

“Discrimination against women and poor legal protections have allowed abuses against domestic workers to flourish in every corner of the world,” said Nisha Varia, senior women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “This new convention is a long overdue recognition of housekeepers, nannies, and caregivers as workers who deserve respect and equal treatment under the law.”
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