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Questions and Answers about USDA's Guidelines for Eliminating Child and Forced Labor in Agricultural Supply Chains

On April 12, 2011 USDA published a Federal Register Notice to inform the public of its Guidelines for Eliminating Child and Forced Labor in Agricultural Supply Chains (Guidelines) and to seek public comment on those Guidelines. Following are some Questions and Answers designed to facilitate a common understanding of the purpose and status of the Guidelines:


Question 1: Why is USDA proposing these Guidelines?

Answer: USDA issued the Guidelines in response to a mandate included in the 2008 Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008 (Farm Bill, Public Law 110-246) . Section 3205 of the Farm Bill created the Consultative Group to Eliminate the Use of Child Labor and Forced Labor in Imported Agricultural Products (Consultative Group) to develop recommendations relating to a standard set of practices for independent, third-party monitoring and verification for the production, processing, and distribution of agricultural products or commodities to reduce the likelihood that agricultural products or commodities imported into the United States are produced with the use of forced labor or child labor. As required by the statute, the Consultative Group is made up of officials from the Departments of Agriculture, Labor and State, as well as representatives of agricultural enterprises, non-governmental organizations, academic and research institutions and a third party certification body. After receiving the Consultative Group's recommendations, the Farm Bill required the Secretary of Agriculture to release guidelines for a voluntary initiative to enable entities to address issues raised by the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 (22 U.S.C. 7101 et seq.). These guidelines were required to be published in the Federal Register and made available for public comment for a period of 90 days. On December 21, 2010, the Consultative Group presented its recommendations to Secretary of Agriculture Thomas J. Vilsack. The Secretary elected to issue Guidelines based on the Consultative Group's recommendations without change and did so on April 12, 2011. The Consultative Group's report is available here.


Question 2: Who was involved in developing the Guidelines?

Answer: Secretary Vilsack named the members of the Group on September 23, 2009. As required under section 3205(d) of the Farm Bill, the Group is composed of a total of 13 members, including two officials from USDA; the Department of Labor's Deputy Undersecretary for International Affairs; and one representative from the Department of State. Non-government members include three individuals representing agriculture-related enterprises; two individuals representing institutions of higher learning and research institutions; one individual representing an organization that provides independent, third-party certification services for labor standards, and three individuals representing charitable organizations with expertise on the issues of international child labor and forced labor. The current members of the Group and their affiliations are listed below:

  1. Darci Vetter (Chairperson), Deputy Under Secretary, Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services, U.S. Department of Agriculture
  2. Rebecca Blue, Deputy Under Secretary, Marketing and Regulatory Programs, U.S. Department of Agriculture
  3. Sandra Polaski, Deputy Undersecretary for International Affairs, U.S. Department of Labor
  4. Michael Posner, Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, Department of State
  5. Bama Athreya, Senior Fellow, International Labor Rights Forum
  6. Eric Edmonds, Associate Professor of Economics, Dartmouth College
  7. Kimberly Elliott, Senior Fellow, Center for Global Development, Visiting Fellow, Peterson Institute
  8. Bill Guyton, President, World Cocoa Foundation
  9. Rachelle Jackson, Director, Research and Development, STR Responsible Sourcing
  10. Dennis Macray, Senior Sustainability Advisor, Theo Chocolate Company
  11. Edward Potter, Director, Global Workplace Rights, Coca-Cola Company
  12. Margaret Roggensack, Senior Advisor for Business and Human Rights, Human Rights First
  13. Auret Van Heerden, President and CEO, Fair Labor Association

Question 3: What happens now that the Guidelines have been published?

Answer: The Consultative Group has spent the past year identifying what its members believe are the key elements for a monitoring and verification program to reduce the likelihood that forced or child labor is being used in agricultural supply chains. Now USDA is seeking the views of others who have an interest in operating such a program to see if the Guidelines that have been developed will be useful, or how they can be adapted for specific uses. USDA are interested to receive comments and particularly to engage interested parties in further discussions on ways these Guidelines might be used. USDA has requested comment on the Guidelines in a Federal Register Notice published on April 12, 2011. Comments may be submitted until July 11, 2011. After that date, the Consultative Group will reconvene to review comments received and determine the best way to follow-up during the remainder of the Group's mandate, which expires at the end of 2012.


Question 4: Are importers going to be required to implement these guidelines?

Answer: No. The legislative mandate is to release guidelines for a voluntary initiative. The Guidelines are intended to be used by companies that want to provide reliable assurances that their products are not made with the use of child labor or forced labor. Importers may or may not choose to use the Guidelines; however, U.S. importers must abide by relevant U.S. laws pertaining to the importation of goods made by forced labor and child labor, such as the import prohibition contained in the Tariff Act of 1930 (19 USC 1307).


Question 5: Will USDA establish a program similar to the National Organics Program based on these Guidelines?

Answer: USDA does not currently plan to establish a program based on the Guidelines.


Question 6: Who is going to decide whether specific programs meet the Guidelines?

Answer: Since the Guidelines are, by necessity, general in nature, further work by interested parties will be necessary to develop detailed programs that can be implemented by specific companies or industry groups. Therefore, during the remainder of its mandated term (through the end of 2012), the Consultative Group intends to publicize the Guidelines and encourage their use. In addition, interested members will develop a plan to establish a credible process for independent monitoring and oversight of the use of the Guidelines over the long term. The Group will identify and engage with potential stakeholders in the non-profit, business and certification services communities as it conducts these activities. The Departments of Labor and State, which have existing offices/agencies dedicated to international labor issues, have expressed a willingness to provide resources for such a process.


Question 7: Are these Guidelines intended for any specific products or commodities?

Answer: The Guidelines are intended to address production systems for all agricultural products. Because of this broad coverage they tend to be general in nature. Further work will be required to adapt them to the specific circumstances for any individual commodity.


Question 8: How do the Guidelines relate to the Harkin Engel Protocol (HEP), which addresses labor practices in the cocoa sector?

Answer: The Guidelines are independent of the HEP. Companies that are implementing activities as part of the HEP may or may not choose to use the Guidelines for their specific purposes.


Question 9: How do these Guidelines relate to programs being carried out by the Department of Labor to address child labor?

Answer: The Consultative Group's Guidelines and the technical assistance projects administered by the Department of Labor's (DOL) Office of Child Labor, Forced Labor, and Human Trafficking (OCFT) are separate initiatives carried out under separate mandates. However, they share a common goal of combating exploitative child labor and forced labor in countries where it is taking place. Since 1995, OCFT has funded over 250 projects to combat exploitive child labor, worth over $740 million. These projects have been implemented by more than 60 organizations in 85 countries. While the Consultative Group's Guidelines are not directly linked to OCFT's technical assistance programming and are not there to direct OCFT's funding of anti-child labor projects, OCFT sees many of the approaches highlighted by the Guidelines as complementary to its own efforts to address these issues. Moreover, successful implementation of the Guidelines by companies could help to inform OCFT of effective strategies to integrate into future projects.


Question 10: Can implementation of these Guidelines enable goods or countries to be removed from The Department of Labor's List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor, mandated by the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2005 ("TVPRA List")?

Answer: The TVPRA List is a list of goods and countries, whereas the Guidelines are designed to be implemented by individual companies. In order for a good, with its country of origin, to be removed from the TVPRA List, DOL must have evidence that the problem(s) of child labor and/or forced labor in the production of the good have been significantly reduced or eliminated in the country. A single company's implementation of the Guidelines may be effective in ensuring that that company's products are not produced with child or forced labor, but may be insufficient to reduce or eliminate these problems from an entire industry in a given country. DOL examines each good and country individually to make a determination as to inclusion or removal from the TVPRA List.