U.S. DEPARTMENT OF LABOR
Child Labor Report Press Conference
Remarks Prepared for Delivery
March 25, 1999
Thank you Senator Harkin for your leadership-day in and day out, year in and year out. I think it's fair to say that without your commitment and vision, the whole issue of stamping out abusive child labor would not be the priority it is today. You quite literally have led the way in putting this issue on the policy map and for that we thank you.
As Senator Harkin said, the report we release today builds on our progress together. This is our fifth study-and it is the most comprehensive U.S. government report to document worldwide efforts to fight abusive child labor.
There is a lot of information in it--I want to focus briefly on the three main points that emerged from this report.
First-and fundamentally--there is a finally a recognition across the board that abusive child labor exists. That may not sound startling in itself, but as Senator Harkin will tell you, it wasn't long ago that governments simply turned a blind eye. This report clearly documents the extent of abusive child labor in 16 countries. But it also shows how together we are translating awareness into action.
That leads me to my second point. We're out of the denial phase and into the action phase. We are seeing a commitment to solutions. From tobacco farms in Tanzania...to the shoe industry in Brazil...to the soccer ball industry in Pakistan...to ending child commercial sex exploitation in Thailand-creative partnerships are taking root.
There are a variety of strategies, but there is one common ingredient to success: countries are recognizing this the challenge is about more than just getting children out of work, it's about getting them into school. Education must be at the center. In almost half of the nations we studied less than 70 percent of the children enrolled in primary school reach the fifth grade. So access to primary education is key.
The third and final point is that it's not just a matter of enacting laws, but enforcing laws. All of the 16 countries we studied, for example, had a minimum age for hazardous work. But we know in each, labor inspection is not what it should be. So it is not enough to have laws on the books-we need enforcement on the ground.
As we look at these three points-recognition, a commitment to solutions, and enforcement--the Clinton Administration is backing up its resolve with resources. We are investing in data collection to help nations better understand the nature of abusive child labor within their borders. We have made an historic $30 million commitment to the International Labor Organization's International Program to Eliminate Child Labor--or IPEC.
This is the largest program in the world to take children out of abusive workrooms and into the classrooms. Senator Harkin was instrumental initiating our participation in it.
In the five years since we began this report, the number of nations participating in IPEC has more than tripled. Earlier this month, the President announced the largest U.S. investment ever through IPEC to fight abusive child labor in Central America. And last week, I announced the largest ever U.S. investment to fight abusive child labor in Africa. We are making progress-and we are committed to doing more.
Lastly, when it comes to enforcement, I firmly believe the best way to lead is by example. We are cleaning up our own backyard. We have strengthened enforcement of our nation's child labor laws. And in particular, we have devoted resources to increase compliance in targeted low-wage industries--especially agriculture.
And within agriculture, we have focused on the five so-called "Salad Bowl" commodities--lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, garlic and onions. We have sent out strike forces to root out child labor.
Today I am announcing our findings from the last calendar year. In 1998, the Labor Department conducted 547 investigations in salad bowl commodities and we found 69 minors working in the fields-some as young as 4 years old.
We are following a tough strategy of targeted investigations, court orders, and so-called "hot goods" authority to stop the interstate shipment of goods made in violation of the law. And it's working. Employers are getting the message. We are serious about ending child labor--from where products are grown to where products are sold.
As a matter of fact, the Department of Labor recently fined a Pennsylvania-based grocery chain nearly $200,000 for keeping more than 270 minors at work too late. This is a result of our stepped-up enforcement efforts.
So I would just conclude by thanking Senator Harkin for his leadership in focusing attention on abusive child labor wherever it exists. President Clinton has clearly made this a priority-and I believe the commitment he is making on behalf of the entire nation will make a real difference in the lives of children for years to come.