Protecting Children and Workers Around the Globe

This morning I had the honor of standing with Senator Tom Harkin, a tireless advocate for the elimination of child labor, as I announced the release of three Labor Department reports on child labor and/or forced labor around the world.

These reports shed light on the work that has been done globally to halt these practices. Additionally, they highlight challenges that lie ahead in once and for all eliminating these forms of child labor. No child, anywhere in the world, should be forced to sacrifice their childhood to ensure that their families can make ends meet; especially in environments that are not only unhealthy but, in some cases, costly to their lives.

These reports also highlight each government's efforts to address the worst forms of child labor and provide recommendations to areas where improvement is needed -- including legislation, enforcement, policies and social programs to address the worst forms of child labor.

The reports also include 6 new goods from 12 new countries, for a total of 128 goods from 70 countries. These are goods that the Department of Labor has reason to believe are produced by forced labor and/or child labor in violation of international labor standards.

The Labor Department also maintains a list of products, by country of origin, which we believe might have been mined, produced or manufactured by forced or indentured child labor.

The most significant change in the reports is the inclusion -- for the first time -- of a set of proposed actions for each government to consider. These actions would address the main areas of concern highlighted in the report and signal progress in fighting the worst forms of child labor.

Protecting children and vulnerable workers abroad is a part of our overall efforts here at the Department of Labor. Since I took office, one of my primary goals has been to step up enforcement efforts on behalf of all workers, including children, here at home.

The Department has added 350 new field investigators, issued regulations to keep young workers out of hazardous non-agricultural jobs; and instituted a tougher penalty structure for employers found illegally employing child workers. We are also exploring regulatory changes to further protect children in the agriculture sector.

And while we are focused on child workers here at home, we are also working in partnership with other countries to eliminate the worst forms of child labor.

Today, we also announced $40 million in grants to combat exploitive child labor in a dozen countries working with the International Labor Organization's International Program on the Elimination of Child Labor.

These programs will allow us to work with governments, the private sector and civil society to combat exploitive child labor in agriculture, including the West African cocoa sector; the Thai shrimp and seafood sector; the West African mining and quarrying sector; along with projects in Bolivia and El Salvador.

Now is the time for us to redouble our efforts, renew our commitments, and follow through.

No one has the right to threaten the health, education, and well-being of children by involving them in illegal or inappropriate work. No family should have to depend on the labor of its children to put food on the table and no person should be forced to work in captivity.

As a nation and as members of the global community, we reject the proposition that it is acceptable to pursue economic gain through the exploitation of human beings. No nation does, nor should get ahead, at the peril of its workers.