The Department of Labor has released a new report:
The Department of Labor’s List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor. This government office has compiled a list of 122 goods from 58 countries which are produced using child labor, or slave labor, or both.
The PDF is 194 pages, but you’ll only need the first 50. (The rest is basically footnotes, with one or more sources for every claim that a country uses child or slave labor for a particular good.) If you skip to page 37, you can look at the list sorted by item. Or, you can simply download this list of goods, and which countries produce them using child or slave labor. It’s a short PDF. Take a look. You might even print this out, and keep it close by when you go shopping.
For instance, from where should one buy bricks? Apparently not Afghanistan, Argentina, Bangladesh, Brazil, Burma, Cambodia, China, Ecuador, India, Nepal, North Korea, Pakistan, Peru, Uganda, or Colombia. All but one of these countries use child labor, and six use slave labor.
Slave labor. To make bricks. In 2009. No word yet on the forecast for the next round of plagues.
From the foreword (with emphasis added):
As a nation and as members of the global community, we reject the proposition that it is acceptable to pursue economic gain through the forced labor of other human beings or the exploitation of children in the workplace. However, we are aware that these problems remain widespread in today’s global economy. Indeed, we face these problems in our own country. The International Labor Organization estimates that over 12 million persons worldwide are working in some form of forced labor or bondage and that more than 200 million children are at work, many in hazardous forms of labor. The most vulnerable persons—including women, indigenous groups, and migrants—are the most likely to fall into these exploitive situations and the current global economic crisis has only exacerbated their vulnerability.
Most Americans and most consumers in the world market would not choose to purchase goods known to be produced by exploited children or forced laborers at any price. Likewise, most American companies would prefer that their global suppliers respect workers’ and children’s fundamental rights and provide their employees with working conditions that meet acceptable local standards. However, to translate these values and preferences into day-to-day purchasing decisions, firms and consumers need reliable information about the labor conditions under which goods are produced. In 2005, Congress passed the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, directing the Secretary of Labor and the Department of Labor’s Bureau of International Labor Affairs (ILAB) to compile “a list of goods that ILAB has reason to believe were produced using forced labor or child labor” in order to provide consumers and firms with this type of information.
This report presents that list of goods.
Using the List
On page 44, we find that, actually, this list is not complete:
A country’s absence from the above List does not necessarily indicate that child labor and/or forced labor are not occurring in the production of goods in that country. Data can be unavailable for various reasons including that it is not collected by the government or others, or is intentionally suppressed by the government.
At first glance, this suggests that this list could be counter-productive. If I assume a country not on the list is a safe buy, reality may be that that government is just better at suppressing the reports.
However, they have managed to find data on countries under severely repressive governments, such as China. They’re also clear on which countries for which they couldn’t find enough data, either from the government itself or from watchdog groups, to make statements. These include Belarus, Gabon, Guyana, South Africa, Togo, Venezuela, and Vietnam. Also, a country with many appearances may actually be a country with better reporting in place. For instance, Argentina appears many times, but if you want to buy gravel, it doesn’t seem to be a problem in Argentina. In that case, Argentina may be a safer choice, since there’s clearly a great deal of reporting in that country.
It is true that avoiding an entire country will punish the employers in that country who do respect their employees. Clearly, we need more information here. On the other hand, if this is the best information we have, it may be best to act on it. The most effective pressure on these slave drivers is likely to come two places: within their own country, and from the multinational corporate buyers. If consumers take this list seriously, both will take notice. Both will spend the extra time and money to give us more detailed information.
Another interesting fact:
ILAB’s Office of Child Labor, Forced Labor, and Human Trafficking has also provided more than $720 million in funding for projects to combat these practices in over 80 countries.
That’s a lot of money. I’d like to find a report on how that’s going. But the thrust of the report remains quite Distributist: we ordinary people can help end these atrocities by what we buy.
It is my strong hope that consumers, firms, governments, labor unions and other stakeholders will use this information to translate their economic power into a force for good that ultimately will eliminate exploitive child labor and forced labor.
Here’s a good first step. Freeze subsidies to any corporation found purchasing from a sweatshop. Sounds obvious, doesn’t it?
In the meantime, I’m putting that list in the car.