US adds to list of items from child, forced labor

Published December 1, 2014 11:30PM (EST)

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Labor Department on Monday expanded its list of products worldwide it says were likely produced by child or forced labor, ranging from garments from Bangladesh and electronics from Malaysia to cotton and sugar cane from India.

The full list now includes 136 goods from 74 countries.

"There's a story behind each item on these lists — a child facing back-breaking labor without education or other opportunities for a better life or an adult trapped in a dismal job through deceit or threats," Labor Secretary Thomas E. Perez said in a statement. "These lists raise awareness about child and forced labor. Through collective efforts we can, and must, work together to end these cycles of exploitation."

The new report follows one by the Labor Department in October estimating that there may be as many as 168 million child laborers aged 5 to 17 worldwide, 85 million of them working "in hazardous conditions."

That's down about a third from the 246 million children reported to be in the worldwide labor force in 2000, 171 million of them in hazardous work, according to the Geneva-based International Labor Organization.

The new U.S. report listed 11 goods made with child labor added to the list this year: garments from Bangladesh; cotton and sugarcane from India; vanilla from Madagascar; fish from Kenya and Yemen; alcoholic beverages, meat, textiles, and timber from Cambodia; and palm oil from Malaysia. One item, electronics from Malaysia, was added to the list for being produced from forced labor.

Three items were removed from the list: tobacco from Kazakhstan, charcoal from Namibia and diamonds from Zimbabwe.

Over the past two decades, the Labor Department's Office of Child Labor, Forced Labor and Human Trafficking has helped finance 280 projects in more than 90 countries to combat what it identifies as the worse forms of child labor.

Marcia Eugenia, who heads the agency, cited Bangladesh is of particular concern. "The information that we have for Bangladesh is that the children that are likely working are working in informal garment production. Probably in unregistered production units, with small or temporary workshops rather than the big factories you normally associate with garment production in Bangladesh," Eugenia told reporters in a conference call.

U.S. officials say it's hard to know which products come from child and or forced labor and which do not.

Eric Biel, associate deputy undersecretary of labor for international affairs, called for collective action among businesses and political leaders around the world to combat the problem.

But as to businesses, "we aren't in a position to regulate what they purchase," Biel told reporters in the conference call.

The issues of both forced labor and child labor are part of negotiations under way for the Trans-Pacific Partnership between the western powers and countries bordering the Pacific Ocean.


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By Tom Raum


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