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The Honorable Alexis M. Herman

Remarks of U.S. Secretary of Labor Alexis M. Herman

Teach-in on Child Labor

Washington, DC

May 27, 1998

Thank you Senator Harkin for your words and your leadership through the years to focus attention on abusive child labor practices around the world. I also want to thank and recognize Tony Freeman and Ali Taqi of the International Labor Organization for their assistance in organizing this Teach-In today. And I want to recognize Pharis Harvey for all his efforts on this issue and in particular for your work in organizing the Global March. Likewise, I want to point out Jim Silk and make note of all the work on the March carried out by his organization, the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Center for Human Rights.

It is an honor to welcome the Global March to our nation’s capital--and to see so many young people here today.

I believe it is fitting that we meet today in a museum. Because that’s where the issue of abusive child labor belongs--in museums and history books--not in the daily lives of the world’s children.

This is called a teach-in, but the fact is, the Global Marchers are the real teachers. And you are helping to teach the world two important lessons.

First, this Global March is raising awareness in every corner of the world with a very simple message: Abusive child labor is wrong. Abusive child labor must end. Children should be in classrooms, not workrooms.

And second, you are proving that regardless of one’s age, it’s never too early to start making a difference. Your voice counts--and if you use it, you can help shape the agenda.

You need look no further than the agenda of next month’s meeting at the International Labor Organization for proof of that. As you know, the ILO will be focusing on a new convention on the most intolerable forms of child labor and that in no small measure because people around the world--young and old--raised their voices, raised awareness, and raised this issue onto the international stage.

I know the Global March is headed to Geneva for the ILO Conference. I am on my way there, too. I will be leading the U.S. Delegation because fighting child labor is top priority for this Administration.

President Clinton made that commitment clear in his State of the Union Address. We are raising the issue of ending abusive child labor to a whole new level--and we are backing up our resolve with resources.

We at the Department of Labor are fighting child labor on two fronts-- internationally and here at home. We are not starting from scratch. We have been actively involved in the efforts to place child labor on the global agenda and this Department has issued four landmark reports documenting the problem of child labor around the world and looking at the efforts to find solutions.

Domestically, we have undertaken considerable efforts to refocus our attention on child labor matters -- and we are committed to building on that.

On the international level, the President has proposed the largest increase in our nation’s history to end abusive child labor. We are not just redoubling our efforts--it’s a ten-fold increase.

The United States is committed to being the world leader--and we are challenging every nation to join us.

The funds will be used to build upon our commitment to the ILO’s International Program for the Elimination of Child Labor--or IPEC. This is the largest program in the world to take children out of abusive work places and into the school rooms. Senator Harkin was instrumental initiating our participation in IPEC and we will continue to look to him for leadership.

Through our past investment in IPEC, we have been able to fund innovative projects such as one that removed 10,000 children from the garment industry of Bangladesh and put them in schools--and others in Thailand and Nepal to help girls at risk of being forced into prostitution.

We are now also supporting manufacturers in Pakistan to help 7,000 children go from hand-stitching soccer balls to hand-writing school assignments.

When the President attended the Summit of the Americas in April, he placed great emphasis on the need to invest in children, not see them in work. And he announced our effort through IPEC to fund projects in several Central American nations.

When I visited Africa with the President on his historic trip in March, I was able to help initiate an IPEC program in Uganda. Many additional countries are looking to IPEC for assistance. Because IPEC works. And our budget request will allow it to work in at least 10 new countries.

But we can’t lead internationally unless we do all we can at home.

And we are working to stop child labor with three powerful tools--strong enforcement, sound education, and solid partnerships. Moreover, we at the Labor Department are coordinating our efforts with those at the Agriculture Department. Let me just say how much I appreciate the support and wise counsel of my colleague Dan Glickman, the Secretary of Agriculture. He and I recently went into the fields in Florida to look for ourselves at what more we must do to ensure that children are not at risk here in the United States.

Our budget will provide funds to strengthen enforcement of our nation’s child labor laws. And in particular, we will use these resources to increase compliance in targeted low-wage industries--especially agriculture.

And within agriculture, we are already focusing on the five so-called “Salad Bowl” commodities--lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, garlic and onions. We have sent out strike forces to the field to literally root out child labor.

The Department of Labor will also work to expand educational opportunities--and later job opportunities--for migrant children.

We are also developing partnerships and reaching out to the business community. In terms of agriculture, we are working quite literally at the top of the food chain. We are enlisting the support of business leaders to take responsibility and take action in this effort.

The bottom-line is this: Our challenge is clear--but so is the message from the American people. They don’t want to subsidize the exploitation of children.

American consumers don’t want to put shopping values ahead of core values. They want to end abusive child labor--and we are about the work of getting that done. And together we will keep marching until we reach that goal.

Now, on behalf of President Clinton, I am delighted to officially welcome the Global March to Washington. In particular I want to greet and commend the core marchers who have been at it since the beginning of this long walk. Although to them it may not seem to be so, we all understand that in today’s world the distance between us here in Washington and those child workers whom they seek to help is shorter than ever before.

Let me also recognize the sustained effort of the students from the Broad Meadows Middle School in Quincy, Massachusetts who have shown great creativity in trying to recreate the world of working children. They bring with them the results of a “virtual march” they initiated over the Internet so that many more students could express their solidarity with our cause today. I am impressed and inspired by the young people from this country and abroad who have taken a leadership role in galvanizing this effort.

Thank you.

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