Global estimates from the International Labor Organization (ILO) indicate that there are 152 million children between 5-17 years old were engaged in child labor in 2017, of which about 73 million were in hazardous labor. Concerted efforts by governments, workers, and employers have resulted in a reduction of nearly 94 million children engaged in child labor since 2000. While this decline has been a significant achievement, there are still far too many children in exploitive work. Child laborers are found carrying heavy loads and wielding machetes on farms; scavenging in garbage dumps and are being exposed to electronic waste; enduring physical, emotional, and verbal abuse as domestic servants; and fighting as child combatants in armed conflict. The ILO also estimates 25 million people are trapped in forced labor, including over 4 million children. Children and adults are forced to climb into mineshafts 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

With over 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:

  • Demonstrated commitment and leadership in the worldwide movement to end child labor, which has contributed to the global reduction of 94 million child laborers since 2000.
  • In-depth research on child labor and forced labor in more than 150 countries around the world, including individual country roadmaps to support the enforcement of labor provisions in trade agreements and preference programs.
  • Partnerships with 97 governments and 80 organizations to strengthen laws, enforcement, policies, and social programs to end child labor, and more than 60,000 labor inspectors and law enforcement officials trained.
  • Social compliance tools for businesses and trade associations, such as the mobile application Comply Chain, to raise awareness of risks and highlight remediation practices to ensure that child labor and forced labor are not in global supply chains.

ILAB engagement and technical cooperation initiatives have made a critical difference in the lives of close to 2 million children and 185,000 families through education and livelihood support and increased capacity of governments and other stakeholders to combat child labor and forced 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 for Admission to Employment 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 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 to inform risk assessments, to conduct due diligence on their supply chains, and to develop strategies to address the problem.
  • Consumers use 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 to assist victims.
  • 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 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 over 130 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, as amended by Section 133 of the Frederick Douglass Trafficking Victims Prevention and Protection Reauthorization Act of 2018, directs ILAB to” “develop and make available to the public a list of goods from countries that ILAB has reason to believe are produced by forced labor or child labor in violation of international standards, including, to the extent practicable, goods that are produced with inputs that are produced with forced labor or child labor.” As of September 2018, the TVPRA List includes 148 goods from 76 countries and a total of 418 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 March 2019, the EO List includes 35 products from 25 countries.

Other Research

ILAB funds research projects that develop and 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 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 empower 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:

  • Carry out research on forced labor in high-risk industries, such as 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;
  • Advocate for effective action by governments and private sector actors to address child labor, forced labor and human trafficking; and
  • Assist victims of child labor, forced labor and human trafficking to access services.

Partnering with the Private Sector

ILAB’s sustained, ongoing private sector engagement is helping companies confront 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. For example, Comply Chain provides companies eight steps for developing a robust social compliance system for monitoring global supply chains.

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:

  • More than 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 60,000 labor inspectors and law enforcement officials have been trained to more effectively enforce child labor, forced labor, and human trafficking laws and regulations; and
  • Governments have adopted best practices to assist victims of child labor and forced labor. For example, ILAB worked in partnership with the Government of Paraguay to develop and pilot an electronic system that registers adolescent workers to ensure they are protected under the law and assist with enforcement of labor laws.

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 of trafficking so that adults don’t end up in situations of forced labor.

ILAB at the Forefront of Rigorous Evaluation Research

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. ILAB’s randomized controlled trials, the gold standard for impact evaluations, allow governments and policymakers to make evidence-informed decisions about programs that affect child laborers and their families.

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