Child Labor, Forced Labor & Human Trafficking

2016 estimates from the International Labor Organization indicate that there are 152 million children 5-17 years old in child labor, of which about 73 million are in hazardous labor that by its nature can have adverse effects on their health, safety, and moral development. Concerted efforts by governments, workers, and employers have resulted in a reduction of nearly 94 million children engaged in child labor in the last 15 years, which is a significant achievement. Still, far too many children today carry heavy loads and wield machetes on farms; scavenge in garbage dumps and are exposed to electronic waste; endure physical, emotional, and verbal abuse as domestic servants; and fight as child combatants in armed conflict. An estimated 25 million people are trapped in forced labor, including over 4 million children. Children and adults are forced to climb into mine shafts in search of diamonds and gold; are coerced, deceived, and trapped on fishing vessels by unscrupulous labor recruiters; and are forced to toil in the extreme heat of brick kilns to escape from a vicious cycle of bonded labor.

Our Role

With nearly 25 years of experience, the Office of Child Labor, Forced Labor, and Human Trafficking (OCFT) in the Bureau of International Labor Affairs (ILAB) at the U.S. Department of Labor (USDOL) is a world leader in the fight to eradicate these labor abuses. OCFT combats child labor, forced labor, and human trafficking by:

  • Researching and reporting information to inform U.S. foreign policy, trade policy, and cooperation initiatives;
  • Engaging with governments, civil society, and businesses to ensure that each does their part to make these unscrupulous practices a relic of the past; and
  • Piloting innovative technical cooperation strategies and building capacity in over 90 countries to eliminate the most hazardous and exploitative forms of child and forced labor.

ILAB engagement and technical cooperation initiatives to address the worst forms of child labor have made a critical difference in helping reduce the number of child laborers worldwide by 94 million over the past two decades. Collectively, ILAB projects have rescued and provided education to close to 2 million children and supported nearly 170,000 families to meet basic needs without relying on child labor.

More broadly, ILAB’s work to monitor and enforce the labor provisions of trade agreements and preference programs, which include prohibitions on child labor and forced labor, helps ensure fair competition and a level playing field for U.S. workers and businesses. ILAB’s efforts to eliminate hazardous and exploitative labor practices also respond to concerns of U.S. consumers that the imported products they buy should be made in a way that is consistent with their values. 

Child Labor is defined by ILO Conventions 138 on the Minimum Age and 182 on the Worst Forms of Child Labor. It includes employment below the minimum age as established in national legislation, hazardous unpaid household services, and the worst forms of child labor: all forms of slavery or practices similar to slavery, such as the sale or trafficking of children, debt bondage and serfdom, or forced or compulsory labor; the use, procuring or offering of a child for prostitution, for the production of pornography or for pornographic purposes; the use, procuring or offering of a child for illicit activities; and work which, by its nature or the circumstances in which it is carried out, is likely to harm the health, safety or morals of children.

Forced Labor is defined by ILO Convention 29 as all work or service exacted from any person under the menace of any penalty and for which the said person has not offered himself voluntarily.

Human Trafficking is defined by the Palermo Protocol as the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of an individual by means of threat or use of force or other forms of coercion for the purpose of exploitation.

ILAB as a Knowledge Generator

ILAB’s research and reporting are carried out under Congressional mandates and Presidential directives. They provide specific, actionable information to various stakeholders about how to combat labor abuses in countries around the world.

  • Foreign governments use the reports to strengthen policies and programs for vulnerable children and families in or at-risk of child labor or forced labor.
  • Companies rely on these reports as a critical input into risk assessments, to conduct due diligence on their supply chains, and to develop strategies to address the problem.
  • Civil society organizations, including academic institutions, use the reports to inform advocacy efforts to assist victims in accessing appropriate referral and/or grievance mechanisms and remedy.
  • U.S. federal government agencies use the reports to safeguard federal procurement and imports of goods made with child labor and/or forced labor.

Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor (TDA Report)

The TDA Report is prepared in accordance with the Trade and Development Act (TDA) of 2000. The TDA added the requirement that a country implement its commitments to eliminate the worst forms of child labor in order for the President to consider designating the country a beneficiary developing country under the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) program. The TDA also mandates the President to submit to Congress the Secretary of Labor’s findings with respect to each “beneficiary country’s implementation of its international commitments to eliminate the worst forms of child labor.” ILAB carries out this responsibility on behalf of the Secretary on an annual basis by assessing the efforts of approximately 140 countries and territories to eliminate the worst forms of child labor in the areas of laws and regulations, institutional mechanisms for coordinating and enforcement, and government policies and programs. This assessment is based on a progress scale that includes significant, moderate, minimal, or no advancement. The TDA Report also presents findings on the prevalence and sectoral distribution of the worst forms of child

List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor (TVPRA List)

The TVPRA List is required by the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA) of 2005, which directs ILAB to provide information regarding trafficking in persons and forced labor to other U.S. Government agencies, and to “consult with other departments and agencies of the United States Government to reduce forced and child labor internationally and ensure that products made by forced labor and child labor in violation of international standards are not imported into the United States.” As of September 2017, the TVPRA List includes 139 goods from 75 countries and a total of 379 items.

List of Products Produced by Forced or Indentured Child Labor (EO List)

Executive Order (EO) 13126, issued in 1999, requires DOL, in consultation with the Departments of State and Homeland Security, to publish and maintain a list of products, by country of origin, which the three Departments have a reasonable basis to believe might have been mined, produced, or manufactured by forced or indentured child labor. This List is intended to ensure that U.S. federal agencies do not procure goods made by forced or indentured child labor. Under procurement regulations, federal contractors who supply products on the List must certify that they have made a good faith effort to determine whether forced or indentured child labor was used to produce the items supplied. As of September 2017, the EO List includes 35 products from 26 countries.

Other Research

ILAB also funds research projects which pilot new tools and methodologies that deepen our knowledge and understanding of child labor and forced labor, including their root causes. ILAB programming has supported:

  • The collection and analysis of credible data on child labor, forced labor, and human trafficking from over 90 national child labor surveys and 10 surveys focused on forced labor or forced child labor;
  • The development of new survey methodologies, qualitative and quantitative studies, and statistical guidelines on child labor and forced labor; and
  • The establishment of International Labor Organization global estimates on child labor and forced labor, which serve as the standard for measuring worldwide progress on these issues.

Promoting Collaboration between Governments, Civil Society, and Businesses

ILAB works with governments, civil society, and businesses to ensure that each does its part to combat child labor, forced labor, and human trafficking. ILAB’s experience demonstrates that all of us need to play a meaningful and constructive role toward achieving genuine and sustainable progress.

Empowering Civil Society

ILAB helps increase the ability of civil society organizations to play a critical role in monitoring and responding to cases of child labor, forced labor and human trafficking. The often hidden and unlawful nature of these abuses makes it difficult to obtain accurate and objective information on the nature and magnitude of the problem in a particular country or sector. In addition, when information does exist, there is frequently a lack of independent verification and ways to disseminate the information, hold violators accountable, and monitor follow-up actions for victims.

Through its technical cooperation and direct engagement, ILAB strengthens and expands the ability and role of civil society to carry out key actions to address such abusive labor practices. ILAB funding has made it possible for civil society organizations to:

  • Collect data on these abusive practices and use that information to shine a light on the problem, such as in Malaysia, where ILAB-funded research on forced labor in the electronics industry highlighted cases of labor exploitation and helped spur industry commitments to tackle the issue in their supply chain;
  • Provide regular and ongoing monitoring and reporting of labor rights abuses, including child labor, forced labor, and human trafficking;
  • Call for more effective action by governments and private sector actors to address child labor, forced labor and human trafficking; and
  • Demonstrate effective ways for victims of child labor, forced labor and human trafficking to access assistance.

Partnering with the Private Sector

Around the world, ILAB engagement with private sector partners is helping confront the persistence of child labor, forced labor, and human trafficking in business supply chains. As more and more companies pursue a wide variety of risk-mitigation strategies, many are increasingly looking to ILAB for assistance. ILAB responds to these requests by assisting firms in understanding relevant laws, regulations, and policies and by highlighting effective approaches for monitoring and remediation

Building Governments’ Capacity

ILAB works with governments to make them more effective in combating labor abuses, through efforts in areas such as data collection, monitoring, and enforcement. As a direct result of ILAB initiatives:

  • Approximately 80 countries have strengthened their monitoring and enforcement of laws, regulations, policies, and programs to combat child labor, forced labor and human trafficking;
  • More than 50,000 labor inspectors and law enforcement officials have been trained to more effectively enforce child labor, forced labor, and human trafficking laws and regulations; and
  • Effective practices for providing services to child and adult victims have been adopted more broadly worldwide. For example, ILAB worked in partnership with the Government of Brazil to design and pilot a monitoring tool that tracks participants of the Integrated Action Program, an initiative that provides job and entrepreneurship opportunities to victims of forced labor.

Assistance for Vulnerable Children and Families

ILAB projects adopt a holistic approach to promote sustainable efforts that address child labor’s underlying causes, including poverty and lack of access to education.

ILAB Projects are Monitored for Results

ILAB focuses on achieving results and assessing performance while being a good steward of taxpayer dollars. ILAB monitors program implementation from a results based framework and ensures that resources are used appropriately. Audits and attestation engagement help ensure fiscal accountability of grants. ILAB also places a major emphasis on learning through implementation and impact evaluations to assess performance, identify good practices, and, when needed, implement corrective action.

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