WASHINGTON — Ricardo stands on his tiptoes, straining to reach into a tangle of branches to retrieve a cluster of coffee berries. He makes his way along the row of trees, each laden with hundreds of the tiny fruit, dropping them carefully in his basket. He repeats this process for hours. His unprotected hands and arms are covered with scratches, his bare feet and legs bitten by bugs, his skin scorched by the hot sun. At 10 years old, this is the world he knows; he has never seen the inside of a classroom.
New funding from the U.S. Department of Labor aims to help end this kind of exploitive labor in the production of coffee or other agricultural products imported into the U.S.
In the 2008 Farm Bill (P.L. 110-234), Congress called on the Department of Labor to team up with the departments of Agriculture and State, as well as a cross-section of non-governmental organizations and agribusinesses, to develop guidelines to stem the flow into the U.S. of agricultural goods made by child or forced labor. These guidelines focused on voluntary, cutting-edge approaches that agricultural companies can put in place to curb child and forced labor.
Today, the Bureau of International Labor Affairs is publishing a Funding Opportunity Announcement for an innovative $4.8 million project to build on two decades of experience in the fight to end child and forced labor. The new approach calls for a grantee to work side by side with an agricultural company to put the guidelines into practice in the company's supply chain where there is a risk of child or forced labor. The project will test the real-world application of the guidelines. It also seeks to apply lessons learned throughout the agriculture industry.
Many companies, particularly in the agriculture sector, may know of labor risks in their supply chains but are cautious to acknowledge and address them publicly. This project will encourage openness and transparency and provide support to a company willing to step up, acknowledge these risks, and work to address them. It will complement ILAB's engagement with the private sector to address labor issues in supply chains around the world, whether it's the garment industry in Bangladesh, the electronics industry in Malaysia, or the gold mining industry in Colombia.
The Funding Opportunity Announcement is available at: http://www.grants.gov/web/grants/view-opportunity.html?oppId=277906
ILAB has supported programs to combat child labor around the world since 1995, and since that time, these programs have rescued 1.8 million children. The programs work directly with governments to reform laws, regulations, policies, and programs on child labor, and with civil society groups to provide much-needed education and other services to child laborers and their families. More information is available at http://www.dol.gov/ilab/.