Special Topics in Safety Management

DOL Report Details Child and Forced Labor Worldwide

The U.S. Department of Labor’s (DOL) Bureau of International Labor Affairs (ILAB) notes that some of modern society’s most coveted goods are produced by child and forced labor. For example, there is evidence of child labor or forced labor in sugarcane and coffee harvesting in a combined 25 countries worldwide; children in the Democratic Republic of the Congo labor in harsh and dangerous conditions to mine cobalt ore, a mineral essential to the rechargeable lithium-ion batteries used in cell phones, laptops, and electric cars; and adults and children are forced to harvest palm oil, an ingredient found in nearly 50 percent of packaged supermarket products, and cocoa, the main ingredient in chocolate.

Forced labor

Niran_pr / iStock / Getty Images Plus / Getty Images

This information and a great deal of additional data are contained in two reports the ILAB issues annually, both required by U.S. law—List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor (8th Edition) and Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor (17th Edition). The reports highlight specific sectors in which child labor or forced labor persists in foreign nations and describe the progress some countries have made in upholding their international commitments to eliminate these practices.

“Child labor and forced labor are global realities, increasingly documented by researchers and the media, understood by consumers, and acknowledged by governments,” states the ILAB. “The numbers are clear and striking—the International Labor Organization (ILO) estimates that at least 152 million children are in child labor and 25 million people are in forced labor worldwide. While child labor has declined by 94 million over the past two decades, we are still learning about the true magnitude of forced labor.”

List of Goods

Mandated by the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA), this report provides the public with a list of goods from countries the ILAB has reason to believe are produced by forced labor or child labor in violation of international standards. The 2018 edition of the TVPRA List adds 10 new goods (amber, bovines, cabbages, carrots, cereal grains, lettuce, mica, peppers, sheep, and sweet potatoes), 1 new country (eSwatini), and 42 new line items to the List. A line item is a unique combination of a country and a good. The full List comprises 148 goods, 76 countries, and 418 line items.

Worst Forms of Child Labor

Mandated by the Trade and Development Act of 2000 (TDA), this report is the “most comprehensive research product on the state of child labor worldwide,” says the ILAB. The current report used more stringent criteria to assess the efforts of 132 countries and territories to address child labor. Only 14 countries—including Colombia, Paraguay, and India—met the new criteria for significant advancement, which this year requires that specific legal and policy labor standards be met.

Worst forms of child labor is a formal term defined by the TDA as:

  • All forms of slavery or practices similar to slavery, such as the sale or trafficking of children, debt bondage and serfdom, or forced or compulsory labor, including forced or compulsory recruitment of children for use in armed conflict.
  • Use, procuring, or offering of a child for prostitution, for the production of pornography, or for pornographic purposes.
  • Use, procuring, or offering of a child for illicit activities, in particular for the production and trafficking of drugs.
  • Work that, by its nature or the circumstances in which it is carried out, is likely to harm the health, safety, or morals of children. The TDA states that work under this heading should be “determined by the laws, regulations, or competent authority of the country involved.”

“While the global trend in child labor is downward, in Sub-Saharan Africa, in particular, the proportion of children in child labor is actually rising—with one-in-five children engaged in child labor,” says the ILAB.

Of the approximately 1,700 country-specific suggested actions in the report, 1,100 of them are directed at improving laws and strengthening enforcement, providing a road map for over 140 governments to follow to accelerate progress in eliminating child labor in their own countries.

“The sooner the world can rid itself of such abusive practices, the sooner innocent children can enjoy lives free of exploitation,” says the ILAB. “Achieving this goal will also help American workers, who should not need to compete on an unfair global playing field.”

The ILAB’s two reports are available at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab.