There are 152 million children in conditions of child labor worldwide, according to the U.S. Department of Labor’s annual report published Sept. 30.
Of this total, 73 million are working in hazardous conditions and 25 million in situations of forced labor.
These figures have remained largely unchanged in recent years, despite global efforts to educate the public and to engage businesses to reform their supply chains to reduce conditions of child labor and exploitation.
Overall, there are 218 million children ages 5-17 who work around the world, with the vast majority of them being in conditions that meet the definitions of child labor, forced labor or both.
The following definitions are provided in the report, which are based on International Labor Organization statutes:
- Working children: “those engaged in any activity to produce goods or to provide services for use by others or for their own use.”
- Child labor: “work below the minimum age for work, as established in national legislation that conforms to international standards.”
- Hazardous work: “work which, by its nature or the circumstances in which it is carried out, is likely to harm the health, safety or morals of children.”
- Forced labor: “all work or service that is exacted from any person under the menace of any penalty and for which the worker does not offer him or herself voluntarily.”
A list of goods produced by child labor is included, with this year’s report identifying 155 goods from 77 countries. Items are categorized by country of origin and by whether they are produced by child labor, forced labor or both.
The list covers a wide range of industries and products, from blueberries in Argentina (child labor) to dried fish in Bangladesh (child and forced labor), from diamonds in the Central African Republic (child labor) to electronics in China (child and forced labor), from rubber in Liberia (child labor) to garments in Vietnam (child and forced labor).
Agriculture had the most goods produced by child labor (68), followed by manufacturing (39), mining / quarrying (32) and pornography (1). The same trend held for forced labor, with 29 goods in agriculture, 20 in manufacturing, 13 in mining / quarrying and one in pornography.
Few industries seem to be untouched by child and/or forced labor conditions somewhere in their supply chain.
There were 22 countries in which gold was procured / produced by child labor, followed by bricks (19), sugarcane (18), coffee (17), tobacco (17) and cotton (15).
China had the most goods produced by forced labor (17), followed by Burma (13), India (8), North Korea (7) and Brazil and Pakistan (both at 6).
While most of the report’s focus is on other nations, the U.S. is not immune from child and forced labor conditions.
In 2019, investigators found more than 850 child labor violations; 240 of them violated the Department of Labor’s Hazardous Occupations Orders, according to the report.
“While it is heartening to see in this year’s reports that some countries have progressed in combating child or forced labor practices within their borders, other nations have taken a step back. And unfortunately, some of the world’s largest economies are home to some of the worst violators,” said Secretary of Labor Eugene Scalia.
“As the world grapples with a pandemic, forced labor and unacceptable child labor is likely to become more frequent, not less. Ending these practices demands persistence and requires that all of us around the world, whether businesses, governments or worker advocates, do our part by sharing our expertise, our lessons learned and our best practices.”