By Elizabeth Gardner, NCL public policy intern
In an effort to combat child labor, the U.S. Department of Labor recently updated its list of products made with forced or indentured child labor in foreign countries. Federal contractors are prohibited under U.S. law from using these products.
Under Executive Order 13126 federal contractors are required to make a good faith effort to verify that no child labor was used in the products filling government contracts. It’s a good measure, and the list turns out to be a bit of a Who’s Who among nations with the worst forms of child labor.
Making the most appearances on this list of notoriety is Burma (a.k.a. Myanmar). (It almost completely monopolized the list in its first iteration back in 2001.) The nation’s bamboo, beans, bricks, rice, rubber, sugarcane, and teak (a type of wood) all made the Department of Labor product watch list.
India, closely followed by Nepal and China, isn’t doing that much better though. India’s bricks, cottonseed, embroidered textiles, garments, and stones made the list. Nepal was on the list for many of the same products. And China, whose toys and electronics have repeatedly been linked to child labor, must also be watched.
It’s looking at other parts of the list, though, that makes you just scratch your head—because of some of the products that are on the list and some of the countries that are off it. For example, Russia is on the list for having child labor in pornography. Hm… Why exactly is pornography on this list for federal contractors?
And then Ghana, one of the focal points of efforts to remove child labor from the cocoa industry, doesn’t appear on the list for cocoa. Should we be heartened by its absence? Assume that significant strides have been made to eradicate the worst forms of child labor in cocoa harvesting? That seems to be the case for Indian carpets being dropped from the list. Encouragingly, the Department of Labor noted that independent monitoring of carpet looms in India and pending research were sufficient to keep Indian carpets clear—at least for the time being.
All this being said—with Russia on and India and Ghana off—this list only provides a partial picture of the problem of child labor around the world. It’s good that federal contractors are being asked to monitor their supplies, even if they’re only required to “have made a good faith effort to determine whether forced or indentured child labor was used to produce the items listed.” For you and me, though, this list’s worth is primarily as a resource—a quick overview of countries and products. And when we need specific info, the Department of Labor’s bibliography for the list is an even better resource. If you need data on any of the products or countries—check it out.