Air Date: April 1, 1997||
Sonia Rosen, Director, International Child Labor Office, US Department of Labor
Nancy Arnison, Deputy Director, Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights
Cynthia Price Cohen, Executive Director, ChildRights International
(This text has been professionally transcribed, However, for timely
distribution, it has not been edited or proofread against the tape.)
MARY GRAY DAVIDSON, Producer: This is Common Ground, a program on world affairs and
the people who shape events.
SONIA ROSEN, Director, International Child Labor Office, U.S. Department of Labor: The
Labor Department has catalogued a wide range of industries where child labor is very seriously
exploited. It can range from children cutting sugar cane in Brazil to children in India in glass
factories working in incredibly dangerous conditions without protective clothing under unbearable
heat. Children making carpets. Children in deep sea diving, collecting fish for export. That’s
just the tip of the iceberg here.
DAVIDSON: Common Ground is produced by the Stanley Foundation, I am Mary Gray Davidson.
We all remember the much talked about clothing line that bore the name of talk show host Kathie
Lee Gifford. What made those clothes so note-worthy was that it was revealed that children were
involved in making them. Gifford has taken on stopping abusive child labor as one of her causes
now. With me today to talk about just how widespread the use of child labor is in the garment
industry are Sonia Rosen, the Director of the International Child Labor Office of the U.S. Labor
Department and Nancy Arnison, the Deputy Director of the Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights,
where she specializes in issues of child mortality. I asked Sonia Rosen of the Labor Department
to differentiate for us what is meant by child labor as opposed to kids doing chores around the
house or earning some spending money.
ROSEN: Right. Well, when we talk about child labor we’re generally talking about exploitative
forms of child labor, not child work. We’re talking about situations where young children work or
children work under hazardous conditions or a child working prevents a child from going to school.
In general a child laborer can be defined by ILO Convention 138 on the minimum age for employment,
which defines the minimum age as 15 in developed countries and 14 in developing countries, with
some exceptions for light work.
DAVIDSON: The International Labor Affairs office recently issued a report, one of a series
on the use of child labor in the production of apparel that is sold in the U.S. market. How wide
spread is the problem and where is it occurring?
ROSEN: The apparel industry estimates that approximately 50% of the apparel that is sold
in the United States today is produced outside of our country. Apparel is produced all over the
world for export in a range of different conditions. The Labor Department reported in the past
couple of years allegations of children being used in the apparel industry in some Asian countries
and some Latin American countries and Central American countries. What we did this past year was to
survey major United States apparel importers and retailers, to see whether they had codes of conduct
regarding their overseas facilities and whether these codes of conduct prohibited the use of children.
And if so, how they were being enforced. We found that by and large, children are not in regular
factories making clothes. Where you do find children in some countries, is in subcontracting
workshops, small workshops, or in home work. We also found that due to much of the public attention,
such as that being brought to bear by the Kathie Lee Gifford episodes, that there has been a change,
particularly in the Central American countries in the practices of some of the corporations. And
children, or young children, are no longer involved in the apparel industry. At the same time, it’s
important to recognize that more and more of these corporations are adopting codes of conduct. And are
beginning to develop means to implement the codes, so that young children, or that illegal child
labor, will not be used in the production of a garment that is sold in the United States and bought by
DAVIDSON: Is poverty in itself the cause for child labor. Because it doesn’t occur in every
country in the world, and so it seems to indicate that child labor is not inevitably a consequence
of poverty. Is that a true…?
ROSEN: I think that, that is true. There’s a couple of things to say here. It is certainly
true that poverty is a contributing factor. Many of the children that you see exploited in child
labor situations are the poor or the under-privileged or the minorities in a particular country.
But, also, the actual fact of child labor perpetuates a cycle of poverty. Children that are not
given the opportunity to go to school, don’t learn skills and are never able to raise themselves,
as adults, out of poverty situations. One of the areas where most people agree would be a
significant solution to eliminating child labor is the provision of free and universal compulsory
education. I raise that…
DAVIDSON: …That’s for every child in the world.
ROSEN: For every child. I raise that because there have been some very interesting studies
done that compare developing nations of similar economic status and their political commitment to
educating their children and the corresponding drop in the level of child labor.
DAVIDSON: Nancy Arnison, from the Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights, how do you respond
to that idea of making education compulsory for all children, when quite often there is an excuse
made that children have to work to support the family. In many countries you will hear that
argument that the family would not be able to exist without the child laborer. Is that the case?
NANCY ARNISON, Deputy Director, Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights: The change needs to
occur at many levels; obviously its not enough to just ban child labor, but that must be done,
and we can’t say poverty is an excuse for allowing child labor to continue. But we must address
the various factors that come into play here. Education is one of them, poverty is one of them,
the lack of seeing children as people who have rights is one of the issues too. And so it has to
be addressed in a multi-faceted fashion.
ROSEN: Which is exactly what we at the Labor Department are doing together with many other
governments throughout the world and through the International Labor Organization to develop
multi-faceted approaches to the eventual elimination of child labor.
DAVIDSON: And it just seem obvious that if you were to educate a child, then in the future
they would be a more productive laborer as an adult. Is that not right?
ROSEN: Exactly and their children wouldn’t be as likely to be subjected to child labor as
DAVIDSON: Now talking about the multi-faceted approach, one thing I’m curious
about, is as a consumer, how are we to know what is made by exploited children and what is made
by adults trying to make a living. I know there was a campaign in the rug-making industry that
would actually put a label on, I think it was called Rug Mark, to tell the consumer that this was
not made by a child. But what can be done for consumers? Is labeling probably the best thing? I
don’t know. I look at clothes, I see the country it’s made in, I have no idea who made it.
ROSEN: Certainly this is one of the more pressing issues of the day. Consumers are
increasingly demanding that they do not want to benefit from or subsidize child labor situations
and are now going into stores and asking merchants how a particular product is made and whether
it is made under humane working conditions. Whether children have been involved in making the
product. There are, as you mentioned, there are definitely programs under way in different parts
of the world to develop labels that will inform the consumer that a product was not made by
children, or that a product was made by adults. The Rug Mark program in India and Nepal is one of
them. This is an international program that places a label on hand-knotted carpets made in India
and Nepal to let the consumer know, that A) the carpet was not made by a child and, B) that the
carpet was made by an adult who was paid a minimum wage. This program also has a monitoring
component and a tracking component so that the organization can insure credibility. But it also,
interestingly enough, asks the business interests to donate a certain percentage of the value of
the carpet to the organization for rehabilitation programs, for children displaced from the
carpet industry. So we’re trying both to inform consumers, create more and better jobs for adults
and help the children who will be displaced from the carpet industry. There’s programs being
thought of certainly in the soccer ball industry. We’ve all heard a lot about….
DAVIDSON: …That’s a problem in Pakistan
ROSEN: …About soccer balls being hand stitched by children.
DAVIDSON: Sixty cents a ball, or something like that.
ROSEN: Right, yes. And there’s talk about establishing a labeling program there too, but
certainly there’s a new program being developed in Pakistan between the ILO, UNICEF. and the
soccer ball industry to phase children out of the industry and into education. Finally the
business community, in response to consumer interest as to how the products are made is now
developing codes of conduct that cover labor conditions in the production of consumer items. And
then, letting the consumer know that a particular company has a code of conduct. That’s another
way that companies are informing consumers about the methods of production or to let them know
that a particular item we buy was made under humane working conditions.
DAVIDSON: And Nancy Arnison, I assume you probably have some strategies for individuals to
protect children world wide.
ARNISON: Yeah, I would really confirm what Sonia is saying and add on to that, that
consumers need to take it upon themselves to get information, to be responsible and to say “You
know, this matters, because I am contributing to this. I am part of exploiting children if I buy
these clothes.” It’s not a very comfortable thing to think about. But it’s true. So we need to
make ourselves informed. But we also need not feel powerless when we don’t have the information
about who is making this particular piece of clothing. We have power in that asking. There’s
power in going into the retailer and saying, “I need to know, was child labor involved in the
making of this garment? And I really demand to know this before I can continue to buy clothes
from you.” And the retailer then can make that demand on the manufacturer. And we may think,
“Wow, what can I as one person do?” But our strength is in our numbers. The more of us who do
this the more powerful we can be as a consumer movement. And consumer movements do have power.
DAVIDSON: We’ll pause here for a short break. My guests today are Nancy Arnison, the
Deputy Director of the Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights and Sonia Rosen, the Director of the
International Child Labor Office of the U.S. Department of Labor. We are talking about the
widespread use and abuse of children in labor throughout the world. Printed transcripts and
audio cassettes of this program are available and at the end of the broadcast I will give you
details on how to order. Common Ground is a service of the Stanley Foundation, a non-profit,
non-partisan organization that conducts a wide range of programs meant to provoke thought and
encourage dialogue on world affairs.
DAVIDSON: Sonia Rosen, from the U.S. Department of Labor, we’ve been talking about child
labor that occurs abroad. Is there a problem with child labor within the U.S.?
ROSEN: There certainly is child labor in the United States,. We may not be talking about
the same situation, for instance, glass factories [where children are] exposed to intense furnace
heat with no protective clothing. At the same time when children, for instance in the United
States are working outside of school hours, and American youth, teenagers, do so in very high
numbers be it summer jobs or weekend work, what we focus on, what we are focusing on, is seeking
the highest levels of safety for them. Our rates of accidents and deaths for younger workers are
still too high. And studies show a correlation between the numbers of hours teenagers work and
decreased school performance and increased delinquency. And we need to meet this challenge. One
of the things that we’ve done recently is held a conference with Canada and Mexico, jointly, to
focus on child labor in all three countries. And particularly looking at child labor in agriculture,
which is a problem here in the United States. And representatives from government, non-governmental
organizations, child advocacy groups and unions all got together to begin to identify some of
these problems and look at creative solutions.
DAVIDSON: And for a positive note too, I was going to say, early in this century
child labor was used as an argument that the U.S. would only advance if we allowed this exploitive
type of child labor, and this was before the Fair Labor Standards Act was brought about. And so I
thought we’ve had such a negative tone here that I wanted to point out that things have happened
in our country that could perhaps be used as an example in other parts of the world where the
argument is made that the children must work in order for the country or even the family to
ROSEN: Right. It’s fascinating to read the public statements, the books, the arguments,
the debates, surrounding the issue of child labor at the beginning of this century in the United
States. That the same words, the same debates that we are having now, on an international level,
certainly I learn and we learn a little bit from our own history about strategies that may be
employed to help eliminate exploitative forms of child labor the world over right now.
DAVIDSON: And Nancy Arnison, before I interjected, I saw that you had wanted to add to
that as well.
ARNISON: I actually had a question for Ms. Rosen. I’m aware of exploitation of immigrant
workers, in some of the sweat shops in the United States and I believe that those are sweat shops
that were feeding into the U.S. apparel industry. Do you know whether youth, children, have been
involved in any of those types of…
ROSEN: Former Secretary Reich, the Secretary of Labor until very recently, launched an
extremely vigorous campaign in the past few years that continues and will continue called “No
Sweat,” that brings together representatives of industry, labor, government and NGOs to combat
what we’re seeing, the resurgence of sweat shops in the apparel industry in this country. Again,
using the enforcement, outreach, education prongs, I’m not sure how much youth are being found in
these sweat shops, but to the extent that any are, certainly the Labor Department is actively
working to ameliorate that situation.
DAVIDSON: I’m curious whether the apparel industry is just the tip of the iceberg when it
comes to exploitative child labor. As I started this interview I brought it up, the apparel
industry, as an example because of Kathie Lee Gifford’s very public involvement, but are there
other industries that the U.S. Labor Department is investigating and that you know about also
Nancy, with equal, if not more serious child labor violations?
ARNISON: The apparel industry has received a lot of public attention lately, and the
industry itself has responded in kind. We hear more about that. The Labor Department has
published a couple of reports entitled “By the Sweat and Toil of Children,” and “The Use of Child
Labor in American Imports,” where we catalog a wide range of industries, where child labor is
very seriously exploited. It can range from children cutting sugar cane in Brazil, to children
in India in glass factories working in incredibly dangerous conditions without protective clothing
under unbearable heat. Children making carpets. Children in deep sea diving, collecting fish for
export. That’s just the tip of the iceberg here. Most children who work, or most of the child
labor is actually not found in the export industries; we just happen to know more about that. You
see a majority of children working in exploitative conditions in agriculture, children working as
domestic servants, children being forced into prostitution. The type of more informal
circumstances, which now, because we are highlighting a more public sector, we are hoping that
efforts and programs are being made to help all children in all sectors who are suffering under
ROSEN: In terms of child labor and international protections are the ILO, International
Labor Organization, has been in the forefront of combating child labor since 1919, establishing
the leading international law on this issue. The existing international law is ILO Convention
138, on the minimum age for employment. The IL0 is in the process right now of drafting a new
law, specifically on intolerable forms of child labor in order to place an immediate and total
prohibition on the most exploitative forms of child labor such as bonded labor, such as slavery-like conditions, such as children in prostitution, to give a few examples. I should also mention
that the ILO is in the forefront of developing technical assistance programs. Real programs on
the ground to help the child labor situations, help children and their families be free from
exploitative labor conditions. The program is called the “International Program on Child Labor”
and is funded through voluntary contributions from governments throughout the world, including
the United States, and we’re very pleased to be able to be able to fund some path-breaking, some
real pilot projects. One in Bangladesh which phases children out of the garment industries in
Bangladesh and places them in school. The second one, very recent, the public may have heard
about, and that is an agreement signed between the soccer industry, the international soccer
industry, the ILO and UNICEF, to phase children out of the making and the stitching of soccer
balls and giving them educational opportunities, so that no longer will children in the United
States or anywhere in the world be able to kick around soccer balls made by the sweat and toil of
DAVIDSON: Other children… And I wanted to end on this to be at least a little bit more
up-beat, it’s such a distressing topic and in this country there has been a sea change in how
children are viewed. I mean there is still child abuse, but there have been changes made. And I
am just wondering with both of you working in this field and there have been agencies,
governmental, there have been non-governmental organizations, you work for one Nancy Arnison,
created in the last 50 years to deal with problems of child exploitation. Has it resulted in
improved lives, and can we end this on an up-beat note, or a slightly more positive note, because
it is so distressing as a parent, to know that this goes on. So, I’m just wondering about your
ROSEN: You know, just a few years ago, child labor was barely just a blip on the
international agenda. And to be honest there is no quick and easy solution. But the good news is
that there are still many things we can be doing and that we are doing. The better news is that
we are making some progress, we are making some measurable progress in fighting against the
scourge of child labor and that can only be hopeful for the next generation.
DAVIDSON: And Nancy Arnison, I’d imagine to remain in this field, you too would have to
feel that some progress is being made?
ARNISON: Absolutely. While, as Sonia said, change is slow, I think change and awareness of
these conditions is traveling faster and faster all the time, with the explosion in communication
methods, with the global economy, people can really make a difference. A consumer in the United
States can now have an impact on child labor in Bangladesh and if we can educate people about
that, and in this case in particular, we have a chance to educate our own children here in the
United States. What better way to educate them about international human rights than to take an
issue that they can directly understand. They have to imagine themselves working in a rug factory,
14 hours a day. And they can relate to something like that, a child their own age being exploited
in this way. And this can involve them then, not only in this issue but in understanding human
rights more broadly. It’s an entre into rights issues for children and rights activism for kids.
ROSEN: There has been, what’s really exciting, is that there’s been an explosion in
children’s organizations, organizations of youth and children advocating on behalf of other
children in less fortunate circumstances throughout the world. I am amazed and impressed, the
level of activism of these children. I’ll give you two quick examples. One is that a group of
middle school students in Quincy, Massachusetts, at the Broad Meadows Middle School, were so horrified
by the situation of child labor in Pakistan after meeting a young Iqbal Masi.
DAVIDSON: Masi was very much in the news a few years ago…
ROSEN: …But they began a campaign, and when Iqbal was killed, they decided that their
campaign had to be…
DAVIDSON: …He was the 12-year-old boy who, when he returned to Pakistan, after going
public with his own situation, he was shot and killed. Right?
ROSEN: Right, and we don’t know by who, that is still unresolved. Nonetheless, this group
of students decided that their activism, particularly after his death, needed to take on more
meaning, and they began a fundraising and education campaign mostly over the Internet. And they
raised within the space of probably less than a year, over $100,000 through bake sales, through
ice cream socials, of other children throughout the United States. They have now built a school
for former bonded child laborers in Pakistan, in the same village that Iqbal grew up in. A school
that will now operate in perpetuity with well-trained and well-paid teachers, for all children in
the community as the legacy of Iqbal. You also have a young Canadian boy, who was so impressed by
the story of Iqbal, his name is Craig Killburger, who started his own organization to advocate on
behalf of all child workers throughout the world. The organization is called “Free the Children”
and now has many, many many chapters throughout Canada and the United States that advocates in
schools, in public forums, to governments, to take more of a stand in eliminating child labor
exploitation throughout the world. It’s very heartening.
DAVIDSON: I’ve been talking with Sonia Rosen the Director of the Child Labor Office of the
U.S. Labor Department and Nancy Arnison of the Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights. For
Common Ground I’m Mary Gray Davidson.
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