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Bureau of International Labor Affairs


I. Overview

Child labor is commonly found in Morocco's hand-made carpet industry which exports to the United States. Small garment factories, which are alleged to be occasionally subcontracted by large export-oriented factories, also employ child labor. The leather tanning and manufacturing industry uses child labor but further investigation is needed to determine if any of these products made with child labor are exported to the United States.

II. Child Labor in Export Industries

A 1994 report by Moroccan sociologist Soumaya Naamane Guessous found that, except for hand-made carpets, "almost all Moroccan products exported to the U.S. are made exclusively by individuals over the age of 14."1 Interviews by a U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) official, however, found that export-oriented garment factories occasionally subcontract work to small enterprises which often employ children. In addition, small leather tanning and manufacturing workshops use child labor, but further investigation is needed to determine if the small amount raw hides and leather products exported to the United States from Morocco are produced in these workshops.2

Hand-Knotted Carpets

Although child labor in Morocco's carpet industry has decreased since the 1970s,3 it still exists. L'Union Marocaine du Travail (UMT) estimates that 5,000 to 10,000 children between the ages of 8 and 14 work in the artisan carpet industry and between 2,000 and 3,000 work in the export-oriented carpet industry.4

In 1993, the United States imported over $250,000 worth of hand-made carpets from Morocco.5 The UMT reports that the United States imports approximately four to five percent of total carpets exported from Morocco.6 Several interviews by a Department of Labor official indicated that the vast majority of Moroccan carpets first pass through Germany, which acts as a clearing house for the global carpet export business.

An informal survey conducted by Guessous in 1994 of 10 girls working with "m'almates" (traditional teachers for carpet weaving) in the city of Sale found that all of the girls had started work before they were 13 years old.7 Commonly, a m'almate will train a small group of young girls on several looms. The girls usually start between the ages of 8 and 10. They work as apprentices for five or six years before working on their own looms. During the apprenticeship, the m'almates generally do not pay the girls specific wages, but give them "pocket money."

Due to a sharp increase in foreign demand for Moroccan carpets in the 1970s and 1980s, many m'almates moved into factories, often producing carpets to order. Factory owners would pay the m'almates by the square meter of carpet produced, but maintained no direct relationship with the apprentices. Factory owners indicate that they have no control over the m'almate system and state that if they tried to change the system, they would lose skilled employees.8 A Department of Labor official observed several girls under the age of 12 working on looms with m'almates in a large factory.9 Guessous reports that, "(t)he president of a large carpet-making company affirmed that children currently represent anywhere from 5% to 10% of all personnel [of the handicraft carpet industry], but no study has been done to actually count the number of children working in these factories."10


Morocco's garment industry has grown significantly in recent years and now contributes roughly 20 percent to the country's total exports.11 Although children are not involved in the large-scale modern garment factories, children do work in many small workshops and factories that are allegedly subcontracted by export-oriented enterprises. The United States imported over $36 million in garments from Morocco in 1993.12

Garment industry representatives said that some factories would occasionally send part of their production out to smaller factories and workshops.13 A U.S. Department of Labor official visited a small, unregistered factory in Casablanca whose owner admitted that he regularly employs children as young as 10 years old. He said they work at such tasks as cleaning, clipping threads, and folding garments. The owner maintained that a worker needs to be 15 to work on the machines. He indicated that there were many other factories similar to his in the same neighborhood. The factory owner said that he sold only in the domestic market, though he was about to take a trip in the hopes of finding a buyer in Germany. He noted that other informal factory owners, like himself, also export to countries in North Africa, Europe, and possibly the United States.14

Other Export Industries

Small leather tanning and manufacturing workshops, which appear to produce almost exclusively for the domestic and North African markets, use child labor. Young children of 11 and 12 are reported to work in small, poorly ventilated workshops where they are exposed to toxic chemicals and work with hazardous machinery.15 The leather tanning industry is notorious for abusing the apprenticeship system by employing children under the legal minimum age of 12.16 A small amount of raw hides and leather products are imported by the United States from Morocco, but there is no evidence, as yet, that leather products made with child labor are among them. This is an industry that requires further investigation.

III. Laws of Morocco

A. National Child Labor Laws

Moroccan labor law establishes that children under age 12 may not be legally employed or work as apprentices. Special regulations cover the employment of children between the ages of 12 and 16. Those under the age of 16 are prohibited from working in several industries where potentially dangerous machines are present.17 In addition, they may not work nights (11 p.m.- 5 a.m.) or more than 10 hours per day.18 Under law, exceptions are made for apprenticeships, in that the trainer and trainee may agree to a work arrangement with certain conditions, such as minimum wage, set outside of certain labor law requirements.19

The government is considering drafting a new labor code which would raise the minimum age of work to 14 years.

Labor inspectors from the Ministry of Labor are responsible for enforcing child labor regulations. Enforcement of labor laws is at its best in the industrialized sector of the economy.20 However, the network of inspectors is stretched thin and has difficulty insuring uniform application of labor laws, including those limiting child labor.21 The American Embassy noted that the small, traditional, handicraft workshops in Morocco "have always been notoriously immune to even the most rudimentary work place regulation."22 The Ministry of Labor appears to accept the presumption that to properly learn traditional handicraft skills, it is necessary for children to start working at a young age.23

Union officials noted that fines imposed by labor inspectors are usually so low that there is no incentive for a factory to replace its child laborers with adults. They said that a typical child's wage would be only 10 percent of that of an adult, while fines for using children may only be $2 to $5 per violation.24

Guessous found that ignorance about legal limitations may also contribute to the problem of child labor. Guessous conducted a survey of 40 parents of child workers under the age of 14. When asked if they knew it was forbidden for a child under the age of 12 to work, the parents all acted shocked. None of the parents were familiar with the law and all of them disagreed with it's provisions. "Do you want us to let our children play in the street? Do you want them to learn how to steal, to take drugs? And how will they live tomorrow if they don't learn a trade today?" asked one parent.25

B. Education Laws

The 1963 constitution made schooling mandatory for girls and boys ages 7 to 13. The 1982 census indicated that half of school-aged children were not in school, and of those, 95 percent had never been to school. The 1982 census found that half of children aged 5 to 14 were not educated; of these, 95 percent had never attended school.26 Enforcement of the compulsory education law is lax, especially in the countryside and poorer urban areas.27

Many Moroccan parents send their children to school, but they often become disillusioned by the high cost of school supplies and the low employment rates for educated youth. Many parents distinguish, however, between public and private schooling. A majority of those interviewed for the study indicated that they would have sent their children to private schools, if they could afford it.28

And an ILO official reported that the government has set a goal of raising school attendance to 90 percent by 1997.29

C. International Conventions

Morocco is party to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child30 but has not ratified ILO Convention No. 138 Concerning Minimum Age for Admission to Employment or ILO Convention No. 59 Concerning Minimum Age for Admission to Employment for Industry.31 Ministry of Labor officials suggested that the government is considering ratifying the ILO Convention No. 138.32

IV. Programs and Efforts To Address Child Labor

To date, the Government of Morocco has done relatively little to address the problem of child labor. There has been only a small amount of activity by the trade unions and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in the area of child labor.

A promising program was initiated in 1986 by five hand-made carpet factories, with help from the Ministry of Education, to create a school for the child laborers. Unfortunately, this innovative effort failed. One of the factory owners reported that, "the school closed in 1989 for lack of students . . . [the children] stopped attending because their parents preferred that they learn a trade which would be more certain than their studies and wouldn't last as long."

This same factory owner stated that "the only way to avoid exploiting children is to create laws which allow them to learn a handicraft and to continue their education to save them from illiteracy and abuse in factories which the labor inspectors do not visit."33

1 Soumaya Naamane Guessous, The Use of Child Labor in Morocco in the Production of Goods Exported to the United States (Casablanca, May 1994) 26 [on file] [hereinafter Guessous].

2 Interview with L'Union Marocaine du Travail (UMT) by U.S. Department of Labor official (May 24, 1994); Interview with garment industry expert by U.S. Department of Labor official (May 24, 1994) [hereinafter interview with garment industry expert].

3 In a 1977 report, the Anti-Slavery Society found that in 67 private premises and 17 state centers the employment of girls under the age of 12 was widespread. The girls worked hours far in excess of the legal limit and were rarely paid the minimal salary due to them. Child Labor in Morocco's Carpet Industry (London: Anti-Slavery Society, 1978) 6.

4 Letter from L'Union Marocaine du Travail (UMT) to the International Child Labor Study (June 22, 1994) [hereinafter UMT letter].

5 U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census, Merchandise Trade-Imports by Commodity (June 1994).

6 UMT letter.

7 Guessous at 44-45.

8 Guessous at 40; Interview with Mohamed Benchekroun, President of Martex, by Department of Labor official (May 28, 1994) [hereinafter interview with Benchekroun].

9 Site visit of carpet factory in Sale by U.S. Department of Labor official (May 28, 1994).

10 Guessous at 39.

11 Foreign Labor Trends: Morocco 1992-93 (U.S. Department of Labor, 1993) 3 [hereinafter Foreign Labor Trends].

12 U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of Census, Merchandise Trade-Imports by Commodity (June, 1994).

13 Interview with garment factory manager by U.S. Department of Labor official (May 25, 1994); Interview with garment industry expert.

14 Site visit of informal sector textile factory, New Medina, Casablanca, by Department of Labor official (May 26, 1994).

15 Congress on the Rights of the Child (Casablanca, May 25-27, 1994) (Statement of the Association for the Protection of Children) [hereinafter Congress on the Rights of the Child]; Guessous at 38.

16 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1993 (U.S. Department of State, February, 1994) 1259 [hereinafter Country Reports].

17 Dr. Mrani Alaoui Abdelali, ed., Labor Legislation in Morocco: A Practical Guide, n.d., at 113-14. Based on Decree of 6 September, 1957, Articles 1-17.

18Country Reports at 1259.

Labor Legislation in Morocco: A Practical Guide, ed. by Dr. Mrani Alaoui Abdelali (published after 191984) 23 [hereinafter Labor Legislation]. Based on Royal Decree of 16 April 1940 and 27 March 1954.

20 Foreign Labor Trends at 5.

21 Id. at 5.

22 American Embassy-Casablanca unclassified telegram no. 03088, November 29, 1993.

23 Interview with Minister of Labor, by U.S. Department of Labor official (May 27, 1994) [hereinafter Interview with Minister of Labor].

24 Interview with L'Union Marocaine du Travail (UMT), by Department of Labor official (May 24, 1994).

25 Guessous at 51.

26 Cited in Guessous at 9.

27 Country Reports at 1259.

28 Guessous at 56-57.

29 Congress on the Rights of the Child, International Labor Organization (Geneva, May 25-27, 1994) (Statement of Loic Picard).

30 Country Reports at 1403.

31 List of Ratifications by Convention by Country (as at 31 December 1992) (Geneva: International Labor Organization, 1993).

32 Interview with Minister of Labor.

33 Guessous at 43; Interview with Benchekroun.