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!

This issue is a priority for labor movements everywhere. We — and our partners in Education International, along with our Brazilians friends of the CNTE teacher union — know that teachers and their unions must be part of the process.

The exploitation of child labor is happening everywhere. This is truly a global issue, but what is being done in the U.S.?

It starts with the “CARE Act.”

The Children’s Act for Responsible Employment is a very simple piece of legislation that is currently before our Congress. It proposes to offer the same protections to children who work on farms as those in every other industry.

The facts are that in the U.S., 50 percent of [migrating] children working on farms will not graduate from high school.

The CARE Act is legislation that can help hundreds of thousands of kids.

These kids need to be worrying about their next homework assignment, not about being forced into work.

The AFT will keep fighting for its passage – and fighting to end exploitative child labor.

And to ensure that the strongest statement can come out of this conference in Brasilia, we endorse strengthening the language of the final Brasilia Declaration to emphasize education, and the role of teachers and teacher organizations in eliminating child labor.

We promise that our union will help the United States set a positive example for the world on this issue.

Thank you.

Photos of Dr. Johnson at the Brazil conference can be found here.