Exploitation of Child Labor Still Rampant; Onus Placed on Global Firms

Article excerpt

Byline: John Zarocostas, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Washington Times reporter John Zarocostas interviewed John J. Sweeney, AFL-CIO president, during the recent International Labor Organization (ILO) conference on globalization and child labor in Lisbon. The ILO says that out of an estimated 200 million child laborers worldwide, about 126 million from ages 5 to 14 work in hazardous conditions; have long hours of work; are exposed to physical, psychological or sexual abuse; and are unreasonably confined to the premises of the employer.

Question: The recent revelations of serious child-labor abuses in some apparel plants - linked in India to global brands such as Gap Inc. and in which workers as young as 10 were found to be working up to 16 hours a day - has pushed to the forefront global efforts to abolish the worst forms of child labor. Is there a serious weakness of enforcement here?

Answer: Any weakening of what has been our position, and that of others around the world, in terms of addressing the child-labor issue, is something that we would be very concerned about.

We have been strong advocates in the U.S., and in international discussions, of addressing the child-labor issue and reducing the amount of exploitation of children and hoping for the implementation of the International Labor standards, and we would be very concerned at any country that is trying to weaken those expectations. Children should be educated, and not working unreasonable hours.

Q: Some companies say they advocate strong corporate social responsibility policies. Gap Inc. has started an investigation and claims a small subcontractor it knew nothing about was responsible for its recent child-labor violations. Marka Hansen, president of Gap North America, said, "We strictly prohibit the use of child labor. This is non-negotiable for us ... "

Is it up to the countries to enforce child-labor standards, or can the companies do more?

A:Oh, I think that the companies can certainly do more. I think if they are going to be socially responsible they should be doing more. I don't think that they can speak out of both sides of their mouths when it comes to the exploitation of children.

Q: To what extent is it a weakness of enforcement due to the lack of sufficient labor inspectors in Asia, Africa or in Western countries diligently doing their job? …