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Bangladesh, India, Ethiopia Progress on Eliminating Unethical Labor

Report cover: Courtesy Department of Labor
Report cover: Courtesy Department of Labor

There’s almost nowhere that child or forced labor doesn’t exist, but some countries have made progress in eliminating it while others seem to be sitting idly by.

The Department of Labor’s (DOL) 2015 Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor found that last year in particular did not bode well for curbing child labor.

“In 2015, numerous shocks and stresses throughout the world—disease epidemics, drought, and food crises; major economic downturns and rapid environmental degradation; and the outbreak, escalation, or persistence of armed conflict—exacerbated inequity of opportunity and increased children’s vulnerability to the worst forms of child labor, including human trafficking,” according to the report.

The swell of refugee migrations and armed conflict in the past year has also been of particular concern as a contributor to unethical labor.

People displaced because of armed conflict reached the highest level ever by the end of last year—65.3 million—and nearly half of them were children, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported.

Garments from India, Vietnam and Bangladesh are already on the Labor Department’s Bureau of International Labor Affairs (ILAB) list of goods produced by forced or child labor, and only 12 percent of the 137 countries covered made significant advancements in trying to eliminate the worst forms of child labor, including Cambodia, Guatemala and the Philippines.

Many—like Bangladesh, Egypt, Ethiopia, Lesotho, Pakistan, Thailand and Turkey—have made moderate advancements, while others, like Kenya, have made very little advancements at all. Twenty-four countries increased their assessment level last year compared to 2014 and 22 were worse off than a year ago.

In Bangladesh, 4.3% of children age 5 to 14 (1.3 million children) are working. The country is about 1,700 labor inspectors short of what the International Labour Organization says it should have for the amount of workers there, and the fine on factories for a child labor law violation is a non-deterrent $62.

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“Reports indicate that inspections rarely occur at unregistered factories and establishments, places where children are more likely to be employed,” the DOL report noted.

But on a more positive note, the government approved a policy to set the minimum wage for domestic work at 14 and the national and local labor welfare councils met to discuss ways to eliminate instances of child labor.

India also made moderate advancements, rescuing more than 35,000 children from hazardous work conditions under the National Child Labor Project and the ministry of women and children development launched a website where parents and the public can report and search for missing children who could have been snatched for exploitative labor.

The problem there is that as many as 3.25 million children between age 5 and 14 are engaged in the worst forms of child labor, including the production of hybrid cottonseed and garments, and the legal framework doesn’t prohibit work for children under age 14.

In Ethiopia, also cited as having made moderate advancements, the government adopted a proclamation in 2015, which makes human trafficking criminal and includes provisions to prevent child trafficking and child labor. Children there, however, are still engaged in some of the worst forms of child labor, like textile weaving, because there’s no free basic education in the country and no compulsory age for education, leaving them vulnerable to child labor.

Kenya—a country companies are starting to look at more and more in the move to sourcing in Africa—has only made minimal advancements in eliminating child labor. The government there is funneling some cash to certain households to help avoid sending children to work, but there has been no commitment to enforcing child labor laws and there’s no specific required education age. What’s perhaps of greater concern, the country hasn’t ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of a Child (an optional protocol) prohibiting the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography.

Despite the somewhat slight improvements, however, the Labor Department said there has been a significant reduction in the number of child laborers around the world, decreasing by almost a third from 246 million in 2000 to 168 million in 2012.

After adopting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) last fall, members of the United Nations, have continued their work toward ending poverty, protecting the environment and promoting peaceful, fair and inclusive societies by 2030.

Following that, in February, President Obama signed the Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act into law, eliminating an exemption from the Tariff Act of 1930 that provided for importing product made from unethical labor.

Before nixing that exemption, the U.S. was allowing the import of goods made using forced, slave, convict or indentured labor as long as they weren’t produced in the U.S. in sufficient enough quantities to meet demand.