Close government loopholes to help bring an end to forced child labor

Received by e-mail, From: Brian Campbell, International Labor Rights Forum, Date: 29 novembre 2011

Dear Friends, In Uzbekistan, between 1.5 to 2 million children1 are forced by their own government to harvest cotton each year for export to the world market. If they refuse, they face beatings, expulsion from school, and other government-imposed penalties. 

In Cote d’Ivoire, trafficked children from Mali and Burkina Faso2 work on cocoa plantations far from home where they face crippling isolation, beatings, and other forms of coercion to grow cocoa for our chocolate bars.

As consumers of cotton T-shirts and chocolate bars, we may be fueling the demand for goods made with forced labor with our own purchasing decisions. The Government of Uzbekistan – one of the world’s largest exporters of cotton – works with partner companies like Daewoo Textiles, a large Korean company, to supply global consumers with vast quantities of cotton, yarn, and fabric that may ultimately end up in the clothes on shelves in our local stores.  Cocoa from Cote d’Ivoire, the world’s largest producer of cocoa, is sold to companies like Hershey, which turn the cocoa into the chocolate bars we consume.

In an effort to end the demand for forced-child-labor-made goods, the US Government has begun to take steps to make sure that US taxpayer dollars are not used to purchase goods made with forced child labor. In 1999, the President issued Executive Order 13126, which requires federal contractors who supply products on a list developed by the Department of Labor to certify that they have made a “good faith” effort to determine whether forced child labor was used to produce the items.

Unfortunately, mostly due a loophole in the regulations, companies that supply goods to the US Government that may contain as a valuable component a good made with forced labor – such as chocolate bars made with cocoa from Cote d’Ivoire or uniforms made with cotton from Uzbekistan – have not been required to implement any “good faith” efforts to identify and root out forced child labor in their supply chains, even as the US Government continues to report serious forced labor problems in chocolate and apparel industry supply chains.

It’s now time to close this loophole, and we need your help!

The Department of Labor is inviting public comment this week, and you can send a letter here ( … it’s not too late to write today). By adding your voice, you’ll show that you believe that the US Government and its contractors have a responsibility to use all the tools at their disposal to end the demand for slave and forced labor, including ensuring that taxpayer dollars do not unknowingly flow into coffers of slave masters and brutal dictatorships.

If you believe it’s time for the US Government to use all measures at its disposal to end the global scourge of forced child labor, then send in your comments to the US Department of Labor by December 3rd. Join ILRF in demanding that government contractors that supply high risk goods make a good faith effort to ensure that the cocoa in their chocolate bars or the cotton in their uniforms are not produced by forced child labor.

In solidarity, Brian Campbell, Director of Policy and Legal Programs, International Labor Rights Forum.

1. Fitzpatrick, Catherine A.: How Many Children Are Working in the Cotton Fields in Uzbekistan? October 17, 2011.

2. Tulane University: Oversight of Public and Private Initiatives to Eliminate the Worst Forms of Child Labor in the Cocoa Sector in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, March 31, 2011.

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