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Garments from Bangladesh, China, Vietnam on US Exploitative Labor List

An estimated 21 million people worldwide are victims of forced labor, according to the International Labour Organization (ILO). And the U.S. Labor Department’s Bureau of International Labor Affairs (ILAB) recently revealed where.

As required under the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA) of 2005 and subsequent reauthorization, ILAB updated its list of goods produced by child labor or forced labor Friday, disclosing that 139 goods from 75 countries around the world are believed to be made by children or people trapped in jobs they cannot leave.

Now in its seventh edition (the first was published in 2009), the list includes three new goods (pepper, potatoes and silk cocoons) and two new countries (Costa Rica and Sudan).

On the bright side, garments from Jordan have been removed from the list because ILAB has reason to believe that child or forced labor has been “significantly reduced if not eliminated” from production.

The primary purpose of the list, which is based on a wide variety of publicly-available sources, is to raise awareness about forced and child labor and to promote efforts to address them. It’s also proved a valuable resource to many companies in carrying out risk assessment and due diligence on labor rights in their supply chains.

Among the countries ILAB has reason to believe use both child and forced labor to produce garments are India, Thailand, Vietnam and Argentina, while forced labor is used in Malaysia, Brazil and China and child labor in Bangladesh.

But that’s not to say all garments produced in those countries are made by forced or child labor. ILAB is careful to note that an entry on the list merely indicates that there is “significant incidence” of exploitative labor practices in the production of that good in that country. At the same time, a country’s absence from the list doesn’t mean that there are no instances of child or forced labor there—research methodologies are still in developmental stages—and in the manufacturing sector, garments appear most frequently on the list so brands are advised to be wary.

Thus, because ILAB found a substantial rate of forced labor in textile production in Bangladesh, Cambodia, China and Vietnam, materials from those countries are on the list. Similarly, the bureau has reason to believe textiles from North Korea are manufactured using forced labor, while those from Ethiopia, India and Nepal are at fault for using both.

In addition, child laborers allegedly make footwear in Bangladesh, India, Vietnam, Brazil and Indonesia, while China is believed to use forced labor to do so.