More progress needed to reduce child labor; Urgent action required on Uzbekistan, Domestic Workers Convention, and U.S. farmworker children

Child Labor Coalition Press Release/For release: June 10, 2011

Washington, DC—As World Day Against Child Labor on June 12 approaches, the Child Labor Coalition (CLC) is alerting the public that more than 200 million children still toil around the world, often in dangerous jobs that threaten their health, safety, and education.

Here in the United States, the CLC is applauding the anticipated re-introduction of the Children’s Act for Responsible Employment (CARE), which Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA) plans to sponsor once again next week. The legislation would close loopholes that permit the children of migrant and seasonal farmworkers to work for wages when they are only 12 and 13 years old, often in harsh conditions—10- to 12-hour days of bending over and performing repetitive tasks in 90- to 100-degree heat.

“It’s time to level the playing field by closing these loopholes, which go all the way back to 1938, when the Fair Labor Standards Act was introduced,” said CLC Co-Chair Sally Greenberg, the Executive Director of the National Consumers League, a consumer advocacy organization that has worked to eliminate abusive child labor since its founding in 1899. “We must offer these children the same protections that all other American kids enjoy.”

“Working migrant children pay a heavy price educationally for their labor,” said Antonia Cortese, a Co-Chair of the CLC  and the Secretary-Treasurer of the American Federation of Teachers, which represents 1.5 million public service employees. “Many farmworker children leave school before the school year ends and return after it begins. The constant travel and work wears many children out. They struggle to catch up academically, but for many it’s a losing battle—and more than half never graduate high school.”

The CLC also joins its member organization, Human Rights Watch, and other advocacy groups in urging the adoption of the Convention on Decent Work for Domestic Workers  to protect some of the world’s most vulnerable child workers—the estimated 15 to 30 million children who perform domestic duties in homes around the world. Many domestic workers are girls and begin work as early as age 6 and work up to 16 hours a day, 7 days a week. Many are vulnerable to physical and sexual abuse.

On June 16th, members of the International Labor Organization (ILO) will vote on the convention, which will establish the first global standards for domestic workers. “Instead of being in school, millions of girls work for extremely long hours and little pay, at risk of abuse and invisible to the outside world,” said Jo Becker, Children’s Rights Advocate at Human Rights Watch in a statement issued today. “This Convention would require governments to include these child domestic workers under their child labor laws and to step in to prevent them from being exploited.”

The proposed ILO Convention would require governments to protect domestic workers from violence and abuse, and provide equal treatment with other workers in working hours, overtime compensation, and daily and weekly rest periods. It would oblige governments to set a minimum age for domestic workers and to ensure that work by child domestic workers above that age does not interfere with their education. An accompanying recommendation urges governments to limit strictly the working hours of child domestic workers and to prohibit domestic work that would harm their health, safety, or morals. The CLC also joins its member organization, the International Labor Rights Forum, as well as Anti-Slavery International and other groups in calling for an international investigation to expose the use of forced child labor in Uzbekistan’s cotton industry. According to Human Rights Watch, a high-level ILO monitoring mission would be the necessary first step in providing an independent credible assessment of child labor in the Uzbekistan. Human rights groups have called for such an investigation numerous times in the past and recently made the request again at the ILO’s annual conference currently taking place in Geneva.

Each autumn in Uzbekistan, schools are closed down and hundreds of thousands of children are forced out of their classrooms and into the fields to pick the cotton. Uzbekistan, the world’s third largest exporter of cotton, officially denies the use of forced child labor in its country, and has so far failed to invite an ILO monitoring mission. Uzbek officials did pledge on June 6th to have a government controlled trade union act as an official monitor. The ILO’s Committee on Application of Standards, in a decision issued on Wednesday 8 June after an earlier hearing, questioned the credibility of Uzbekistan’s proposal and also called for the government to accept a high level ILO monitoring mission.

Speaking in Geneva, Brian Campbell, Policy Director at International Labor Rights Forum, and the Chair of the CLC International Committee said: “Uzbekistan’s intention to monitor its own harvest for a problem it denies is ludicrous. Such monitoring cannot be considered credible in a country where independent civil society is controlled and critical media muzzled. If the government has nothing to hide then it should allow the ILO access during the harvest.” The European Union, a major destination for Uzbek cotton, currently grants preferential trading access to exports from Uzbekistan under a program to support developing economies. However, advocates argue this should be suspended in cases of serious human rights violations. “It’s time for Uzbekistan to let independent monitors in or face trade consequences,” said CLC co-chair Sally Greenberg.

About the Child Labor Coalition. The Child Labor Coalition is comprised of 28 organizations, representing consumers, labor unions, educators, human rights and labor rights groups, child advocacy groups, and religious and women’s groups. It was established in 1989, and is co-chaired by the National Consumers League and the American Federation of Teachers. Its mission is to protect working youth and to promote legislation, programs, and initiatives to end child labor exploitation in the United States and abroad. For more information, please call CLC Coordinator Reid Maki at (202) 207-2820 [].