In Washington, Advocates and Federal Officials Meet to Address Child Labor Issues

By Paula Osborn, NCL Public Policy Intern

Around the world, more than 200 million children toil in abusive child labor. Last week, members of the Child Labor Coalition (CLC), which is coordinated by the National Consumers League, met to discuss the progress being made to ameliorate the problem.

Kailash Satyarthi, the Chair for the Global March against Child Labor and the President of the Global Campaign for Education, who, at great danger to himself, rescues bonded child laborers in India, and Ambassador-at-Large Mark Lagon who is the Director of the Trafficking in Persons Office for the U.S. State Department were the main speakers. A diverse group of CLC members and interested individuals attended, including representatives from the International Labor Organization (ILO), the National Education Association (NEA), Rugmark, the Association of Farmworker Opportunity Programs (AFOP), and a dozen or so organizations. Federal officials from the State Department and the Department of Labor also attended.

Satyarthi, who has twice been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize, told the CLC that the elimination of child labor cannot occur without universal education, which he called a “fundamental human right.” Although we are making progress, there is still a long way to go, said Satyarthi.

Ambassador Lagon discussed at length the U.S. Department of State’s annual Trafficking in Persons Report; a country by country review of human trafficking problems around the world, which was released in June. Lagon said that children are particularly vulnerable to human trafficking, especially those who are out of school. He also spoke about the need to re-assimilate children rescued from enslaved labor. The ambassador discussed several child labor and child slavery hot spots, including: the Congo, where young children are forced to become soldiers; and the Ivory Coast, where children are trafficked to harvest cocoa beans used in making chocolate.

Lagon and Satyarthi stressed the important role consumers have in combating child labor, urging consumers to research companies and their labor practices to ensure that their products are child labor free.

Satyarthi spoke movingly of witnessing children sewing soccer balls who worked so hard they cut their fingers as they sowed. They would continue working, he said, motivated by the dream that they—one day—may be able to play with the balls they toiled to make but could not afford to buy.

Consumers need to ask themselves if they are unwittingly contributing to the destruction of young lives. Next time you buy a soccer ball, you may want to ask yourself: “Did the blood of a child go into the making of this product?”

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3 thoughts on “In Washington, Advocates and Federal Officials Meet to Address Child Labor Issues

  1. To learn more about what is, and is not, being done to combat forced child labor in the cocoa/chocolate industries I highly recommend this brand new report from the International Labor Rights Forum.

    Background: Starting in 2001 the cocoa/chocolate industry promised to have in place a comprehensive solution by July 2005. This was the “Harkin-Engel Protocol” to which the Child Labor Coalition was a signatory. But the industry didn’t come close to that deadline.
    They then negotiated for an extension to July 1st, 2008, and that the goals be dramatically lowered. But they have missed this new lower bar, too.
    The report, 18 pages long, explains most of the ins & outs very well, and includes recommendations for what can be done today and how the industry, gov’t, and civic society should move ahead on this.

  2. Rodney,

    I agree. ILRF’s report is full of excellent information. It’s amazing to think that when we consume delicious products like chocolate—that seem so perfect in every way—that some of those products may carry a heavy price tag: children doing arduous work at too young an age, foresaking school and their future to help their family.

    Reid Maki
    Coordinator of the Child Labor Coalition & NCL Director of Social Responsibility

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