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Turkey, Myanmar Added to List of Countries Producing Goods with Child and Forced Labor

Turkey and Myanmar, formerly Burma, have been named by the United States Department of Labor’s Bureau of International Labor Affairs (ILAB) in its annual “List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor.”

Garment industries in both countries have employed child labor, according to the report, as have footwear manufacturers in Turkey.

The report, which includes 148 commodities from 76 countries, was mandated by the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2005 and is updated regularly. ILAB continuously collects data from worldwide exporters in order to educate industry leaders on risky goods and regions that might otherwise escape notice. The process requires independent verification of labor information and does not rely solely on official data.

For ILAB, the goal is to protect interests at home by providing data to both consumers and organizations sourcing goods from foreign counties.

“Whether these abusive labor practices are checked or unchecked, the existence of child labor and forced labor run counter to our values as a nation. We want the goods we consume to be made by workers free from exploitation, not made by children or slaves. We also want workers in the U.S. to be able to compete on a fair global playing field,” Martha E. Newton, deputy undersecretary for International Affairs, said about the new list.

In Turkey, ILAB uncovered reports that children, sometimes just 10 years old, produce garments for the industry. It also found that many within Turkey’s large Syrian refugee community were forced into this type of labor, too. Frequent perpetrators are “small and medium-sized garment manufacturers” across the nation, typically in larger cities.

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Conditions and compensation for the labor are poor, at best, with many children working up to 15 hours a day with only one day off a week. Workshops that employ child labor are often poorly ventilated and can reach dangerously high temperatures during the hot months.

The footwear industry in Turkey was also found to engage in the use of child labor. The instance of young boys and girls working in footwear production areas like Gaziantep and Istanbul has been considered “common.” Children are often kept from education due to long hours and little pay, and the industry regularly incorporates hazardous chemicals and machinery in workplaces where children are working.

Conditions for children in Myanmar are no better. Girls, and boys to a lesser extent, from the age of 12 to 17 have been found working in garment factories, with a large portion of offenses occurring within the Yangon region. ILAB reports that it has found “at least eight garment factories in Yangon State with incidents of child labor” with other reports suggesting a larger, unknown concentration. Children in this industry are punished by strict supervisors and forced to carry “heavy bags and boxes and work long hours, sometimes up to 15-16 hours per day or 60 hours per week,” often late into the night.

Both governments have been active in placing restrictions on unlawful labor, to varying degrees of success. Turkey has achieved “moderate progress” in eliminating child labor, according to a separate ILAB report. Myanmar, however, was found to have made little to no progress and, in some cases, the local government has been complicit.

The addition of Myanmar to ILAB’s list comes shortly after a period of rapid growth in garment exports. Myanmar exported $2.7 billion dollars of garment products in 2017, most of that going to Europe and Asia—with 5 percent ending up in the United States. The Myanmar Garments Manufacturing Association (MGMA) reports that garment exports have nearly doubled over the past two years.

Turkey is one of the larger exporters of textile and clothing in the world. It exported nearly $26 billion in textile and clothing products in 2016, the latest year available in World Bank’s data, and was responsible for roughly 18 percent of the world’s textile and clothing product. Turkey trades heavily with its European neighbors and claims a significant portion of export share for countries like Germany and Spain—25 percent and 40 percent respectively.