Child Labor, Forced Labor & Human Trafficking

Global estimates from the International Labor Organization (ILO) and Walk Free indicate that 152 million children between the ages of 5 to 17 engaged in child labor in 2016, of which about 73 million were in hazardous labor. Concerted efforts by governments, workers, employers, and civil society have resulted in a reduction of nearly 94 million children engaged in child labor in the last 17 years. While this decline has been a significant achievement, there are still far too many children in exploitative work. Child laborers are found carrying heavy loads and wielding machetes on farms; scavenging in garbage dumps and being exposed to electronic waste; enduring physical, emotional, and verbal abuse as domestic servants; fighting as combatants in armed conflict; and subject to trafficking for forced labor or commercial sexual exploitation.

The ILO also estimates that 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 confined on fishing vessels by unscrupulous labor recruiters; and  are trapped in bonded labor while toiling in the extreme heat of brick kilns.

Our Role

The mission of the Bureau of International Labor Affairs (ILAB) at the U.S. Department of Labor (USDOL) is to promote a fair global playing field for workers in the United States and around the world by enforcing trade commitments, strengthening labor standards, and combating international child labor, forced labor, and human trafficking.

With 25 years of experience, the Office of Child Labor, Forced Labor, and Human Trafficking (OCFT) in USDOL’s Bureau of International Labor Affairs (ILAB) is a world leader in the fight to eradicate these labor abuses. ILAB’s toolbox of approaches for combating child labor and forced labor includes international research, policy engagement, and technical cooperation. Examples of ILAB’s use of these approaches include the following:

  • Demonstrated commitment and leadership in the worldwide movement to end child labor, which has contributed to the global reduction of 94 million fewer child laborers over the last 17 years.
  • In-depth research on child labor and forced labor in over 150 countries around the world, including individual country roadmaps for a world free of child and forced labor, to monitor and enforce labor provisions of trade agreements and preference programs.
  • Partnerships with more than 95 governments and 80 organizations to strengthen legal frameworks, enforcement actions, and policies and programs to end child labor and forced labor.
  • Engagement with businesses and trade associations on social compliance tools, such as ILAB’s ComplyChain, to raise awareness of risks and highlight remediation practices to ensure that child labor and forced labor are not in global supply chains.
  • Technical cooperation initiatives and projects that have made a difference in the lives of close to 2 million children and approximately 185,000 families through the provision of education and livelihood support.
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Child Labor is defined by ILO Convention 138 on the Minimum Age and ILO Convention 182 on the Worst Forms of Child Labor. ILO C. 138 states that the minimum age for admission to employment should not be less than the age of completion of compulsory schooling and should not be less than age 15, or age 14 for developing countries that specified a minimum legal age of 14 upon ratification of ILO C. 138. ILO C. 182 defines the worst forms of child labor as 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 laws, enforcement, 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 for risk assessments, to conduct due diligence on their supply chains, and to develop strategies to address the problem.
  • Consumers utilize our research to minimize the risk that their purchases inadvertently support exploitative labor practices around the world.
  • Civil society organizations, including academic institutions, use the reports to inform advocacy efforts and 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 guard against the importation of goods made with forced labor, including forced child 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 and retaining 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 132 GSP beneficiary 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 labor.

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. The Act directs ILAB to develop and publish the List 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 2018, the TVPRA List includes 148 goods from 76 countries and a total of 418 line 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 and that, on the basis of those efforts, the contractor is unaware of any such use of child labor.

Other Research

ILAB also funds research projects that 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 through the implementation of 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 brings governments, civil society, and businesses together to ensure that each plays a constructive and coordinated role in combatting child labor, forced labor, and human trafficking. Such partnerships are vital to obtaining substantive and sustainable change.

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 helps civil society organizations carry out vital functions to address abusive labor practices. Below are examples of the types of ways ILAB has partnered with civil society:

  • Funds research on forced labor in high-risk industries, such as forced labor in electronics, to understand cases of labor exploitation and help 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

ILAB’s sustained, ongoing private sector engagement is helping companies confront the persistent challenges in eliminating child labor, forced labor, and human trafficking in supply chains. Companies are increasingly looking to ILAB for assistance in pursuing risk-mitigation strategies. ILAB gives these firms the tools they need to understand relevant laws, regulations, and policies and to model effective strategies for monitoring and remediation.

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. Project strategies include linking vulnerable groups to existing government social programs, providing children with quality education or afterschool services, helping families improve their livelihoods to meet basic needs without relying on child labor, and raising awareness about risks to trafficking so that adults don’t end up in situations of forced labor.

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.

ILAB Projects are Monitored for Results

ILAB continues to invest in impact evaluations of innovative interventions to broaden the global knowledge base on effective strategies for combating child labor and forced labor. Evidence from the ILAB-funded randomized controlled trials (RCTs), the gold standard for impact evaluations, has been used to inform governments and policymakers around the world. For example:

  • Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA) collaborated closely with the Ministry of Education in Peru to test and scale up information campaigns which use telenovelas and tablets to educate students and their parents to reduce school drop-out and child labor.
  • ILAB’s impact evaluation partner in the Philippines (IPA Philippines) has seen increased willingness and interest among government partners in using evidence for decision-making as a result of their collaboration to evaluate a government program to combat child labor.
  • UNICEF is using evidence from its ILAB-funded impact evaluations to advocate for improvements in national cash transfer programs, for example, in Malawi.


US Department of Labor awards $4M project to address child labor in vanilla-growing areas of Madagascar

Please note:  As of January 20, 2017, information in some news releases may be out of date or not reflect current policies.

US Department of Labor awards $7 million grant to Reduce Child Labor in Agriculture in Mexico

Please note:  As of January 20, 2017, information in some news releases may be out of date or not reflect current policies.