US Department of Labor List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor

In our discussion in class yesterday, Ben Skinner mentioned that the US Department of Labor released last week a list of goods produced by child labor or forced labor. Publication of this report is mandated by law. Among the findings:

  • The goods that have a high incidence of child or forced labor in their production include cotton, sugarcane, tobacco, coffee, rice, cocoa, bricks, garments, carpets, footwear, gold and coal.
  • There are 122 goods in 58 countries produced using  child labor, forced labor, or both.
  • More goods are made with child labor than forced labor.

Here are some of the products on the list according to country:

  • Bolivia – nuts, cattle, corn, and sugar
  • Burma – bamboo, beans, bricks, jade, nuts, rice rubber, rubies, sesame, shrimp, sugarcane, sunflowers, and teak
  • China – artificial flowers, bricks, Christmas decorations, coal, cotton, electronics, garments, footwear, fireworks, nails, and toys
  • India – bricks, carpets, cottonseed, textiles, and garments
  • Nepal – bricks, carpets, textiles, and stones
  • North Korea – bricks, cement, coal, gold, iron, and textiles
  • Pakistan – bricks, carpet, coal, cotton, sugar, and wheat

11 Responses to “US Department of Labor List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor”

  1. 1 Lily Yip 18/09/2009 at 2:50 am

    I think the message I got was the liberty of another fellow human being is too big a price to pay for global economic growth. Never have I thought about eating another person’s flesh and blood when enjoying my favourite Snickers bar.

    I may not be as academic as I would like to be in this response but I would like to thrown in my two cent on the conflict between the natural tendency to be drawn by bargains and it is precisely this desire that subjects people in developing countries desperate for a job or children to the danger of being tricked into slavery. Mr. Skinner mentioned the first step is to raise awareness. While policy making and international sanctions may be the work of politicians and Nation leaders, I was brainstorming anything individuals like us can do? Sex trafficking is happening everyday in HK, we consume products made in China probably made by child labour, I didn’t check the last time where the sugar I bought was imported from. Honestly I felt disturbed and powerless realizing so much things around us we are enjoying may be from the expense of another person’s liberty. Petitioning? Protest march? More blogging and facebook posts?

    Quick feedback on the format of the lecture: despite slight audio problem, I think it was a success and hopes it will be done again in the future. Not only it was a great honour to meet the author, but it helps us relate to the issue on a personal level, stimulating deeper reflections, and this is not something we can get from reading from books or from documentaries.

    • 2 Jean-Francois Dupre 21/09/2009 at 12:03 pm

      Dear Lily,

      thank you very much for your thoughtful response. I must agree with you that the problem seems absolutely overwhelming. Almost every product we consume appears to be tinted with some form of exploitation, and it seems our growing consumerist culture only reiforces this trend. It seems to me that government intervention would be desirable, but in the [paradoxical]context of global interdependence and nation-centered race for economic growth, it seems very little can be done at this moment. I wonder what are the implications of China growth and modernization. What will happen to our global structures when PRC residents consume as much as North Americans do? Any thoughts?


  2. 3 Lau Chi Ling, Stef 21/09/2009 at 11:56 pm

    I absolutely agree with what Lily’s said in the previous post. Modern slavely is not something far away; instead we encounter it in our everyday life. While people in developing countries like us are enjoying our lives and obsessed by consumerism, not many of us can recognise that our enjoyment is bulit on other people’s suffering and pain.

    As Ben Skinner has mentioned, awareness is the most important thing. It is the first, crucial step to combat global slavery because most of the people are just simply unconscious of the presence of such a problem. After that, the next step should be taking actions against such inhumane treatments to laborers. This lead to some debates as many people will think that as individuals, we are pretty powerless in combating the problem. However, I think even individual efforts may not be sufficient, we can at least try our best to be ethical consumers. At least next time when we want to buy a bar of chocolate, we can consider those certified fair-trade products; or if we want to enjoy a cup of coffee, choose those coffee shops that use fair-trade coffee beans. These acts may be insignificant, but I do believe every movement starts from individuals. It’s like being a vegetarian can be more eco-friendly and as a result can help to combat the problem of global warming. Even though there’s only a very small portion of people is doing it, and you probably can’t stop the majority of the world’s population to consume meat, but if you insist on your own principle it’s definitely better than doing nothing. After all, maybe these small acts are just drops in the ocean, but it is actually these drops that make the ocean!

  3. 4 Lily Yip 22/09/2009 at 7:52 pm

    Just heard from the news that the french police have busted a human trafficking camp near Calais.

    Just a thought – the focus seemed to be public health hazard and the illegal migrants trying to get to Britain and increase burden on the British social welfare rather than the possibility of slavery of these immigrants, not exactly going to help combat slavery if it curbs the symptom but not the horrific implication of slavery?

  4. 5 Senia Ng 22/09/2009 at 10:58 pm

    I am happy to see that the US DOL has actually put in efforts to look into the issue of slavery, and this list can actually help to raise people’s awareness on the problem. I believe that people will actually be shocked to see that so many products around them are made by slaves.
    However, the list has its limits. It only states which types of products are made from slaves, but does not exactly tell which companies are using slaves.
    The problem with this is that not all goods of that particular type are made by slaves. There must be some existing companies that do things the right way. Wouldn’t it be unfair for those righteous companies that are having their goods produced in the humane way?
    I think what’s really necessary is to have a list of the exact companies that are doing things the right/wrong way, so that people can choose wisely. Transparency of the production systems of each company is vital for us to achieve this.
    Also, I think that the approach should not be just upholding the righteous companies, but to criticize the inhumane ones. i.e. we should perhaps be imposing sanctions on the inhumane companies rather than just supporting the fair trade companies. These two approaches reflect different thinkings of the people. The former just suggests that we should support the righteous companies, but the bad ones can still survive. But NO! What we need is the latter, that none of the bad ones should be able to exist at all.

  5. 6 Liu Ka Yu, Athena 23/09/2009 at 9:36 pm

    I agree with you all that comsumerist culture in China just get slavery even more serious. And I can forsee that it is a irreversible one.

    But what we can do to combact this trend is another sightful question. what role does education play in raising awareness? What role does the Chinese government, as a good governance, play? Will it combact slavery when it brings lots of benefits to her? What can we make slavery “less attractive” to people who want to gain profits from it? Or more exactly we have to know, what do “they” want? MOney? Can “money” solve the problem? Can government subsidize more in different industries which can help industries to gain more and use less slaves?

    and, to china, what role do better selling price and fairer trade play?

  6. 7 Rosie Macgill 24/09/2009 at 1:43 pm

    Reading this list was the first time i had ever come across such a concise collection of data. It is fascinating that we have the research availiable to us that shows how illegal an origin our bought goods may have had.

    I agree with Senia, that people will be shocked to see the list and where these products come from. I think the key to it having any impact lies in awareness. Looking at the document from the website it was very confusing and hard to follow. I think a lot could be achieved with simply publishing the document in a reader friendly way. Why wasn’t more of a big deal made about it?n Why wasn’t this at the heart of a campaign to deal with the issue? Or if it was, why didnt i hear about it?

    But like Senia says, the list has limits. What would be the implications for example if there was a mass movement to stop buying nuts made in Bolivia. Im sure much could be achieved but there would also be suffering on a great scale. What about the farmers who pay their labourers in a fair way? Would they collectively pay the price?

    Transparency can be highly effective means of giving people the option to choose and given the growing trend today, especially in the UK, of buying locally and buying fair trade, i think a large number of people in the western world would chose to buy products untainted by slavery.

    But fundamentally there needs to be more awareness. I was shocked to see the documntary and realise how little the issue of ‘slavery’ comes into daily politcs, conversation, debate or our thoughts. Why doesn’t it? What evidence do those in government need? For a start i think its important to let people know because there are so many who sadly just aren’t aware.

  7. 8 Chan Pui Ki, Kiki 26/09/2009 at 8:48 pm

    Exploitation of labour is largely driven by corporations’ quest for low cost and profit as well as consumers’ desire for cheapness. Apart from minimizing slavery, any solution should also create incentives for corporations and consumers to compensate for the higher cost incurred.

    An example in the environmental field is the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), a third-party certification program recognizing green building technologies. Though the initial cost in adopting green building technologies is high, developers are motivated because their buildings promote energy efficiency and cost saving and thus are demanded by corporations. Cost saving is as appealing as the reputation of establishing offices in LEED-certified buildings.

    Now, products with certification (such as that of fair trade) cost more than those without it, so consumers attracted by them belong to the minority. (Indeed, they are not necessarily more expensive. Products tinted by unethical acts are abnormally cheap.) When the awareness for slavery is low, certified products can only compete if their costs are lower. Consumers in countries such as Finland are awarded coupons if they recycle. The recyclable waste does generate value. This is not the case for slavery-free products.

    During the course of awareness building, government intervention is acceptable. For example, to promote the use of electric vehicles, the government in Hong Kong practises the exemption of electric vehicles from First Registration Tax. Likewise, tax incentives can be granted to certified corporations producing slavery-free products. The practice can continue until the awareness is rooted in the society. Otherwise, the continuation of tax incentives may be unfair to other consumer sectors.

  8. 9 Vicko Cheung Chun Sheung 28/09/2009 at 11:08 pm

    Here I would like to respond to the point “fair trade” as mentioned by Stef. I do agree that we should put effort onto alleviating the “unfair trade” problem in the world trade market. However, sometimes I found it blurred in saying whether unfair trade would definitely bring adverse influence to the poor.

    International trade dominates a country’s wealth in the contemporary global world. Many people claimed that while rich countries are consuming goods in the global economy, we are harming the poor. Here I would like to take the criticism of a multinational corporation, Starbucks, as an illustration. Take a tall-size coffee selling in Starbucks as an example; let its selling price be $30, only ten percent of these profits are received by the coffee farmers according to Oxfam while the remaining is grasped by its entrepreneurs.

    Here, I agree that the entrepreneurs are harming the global poor by taking away huge profits from them. Coming to individual level of analysis, it would be worth considering whether we should stop purchasing the coffees as citizens in rich countries, in order not to let Starbucks continuously dispossess profit from the farmers and thus honoring our negative duty. If it is the case, I would choose to keep buying coffees in Starbucks in order not to harm the farmers’ export opportunities. I reckon that we would harm the poor countries even more by “dropping out of the economy”. Yes, it may be an unfair trade in purchasing coffee at Starbucks regarding the profit allocation; however, assuming that under no circumstances we can avoid from harming the poor, we can only and better to choose to harm them less by continuously participating in the economy as present.

  9. 10 Tammy Tsang 29/09/2009 at 1:36 pm

    Most of the time we think of how developed countries or international organizations can assist in freeing the slaves prevalent in the poorer countries, like making the list of products and countries involving slavery above. But I think that freeing the slaves becomes a harder task when the countries with slavery problem are reluctant to admit that slavery exists in their countries. So I’ve been thinking why some of the countries with slavery problem did little to cooperate with the international organizations or, worse still, deny of the problem’s existence in their countries.

    One of the reasons I can think of is that some of the countries with slavery problem are actually parties to international conventions against slavery. Therefore by admitting to having problem of slavery in their countries would not only make their countries look bad but also entail that they have the responsibility to do something about it. These relatively poor countries simply do not have or do not want to “waste” their resources on freeing the slaves. (Interestingly similar to US’s denial on the Rwanda genocide for not wanting to bear the responsibility to stop the genocide.)

    Another possibility is that the local governments actually sort of welcome slavery because the slaves help with the region’s economy. These slaves receive no pay and so the cost of production is greatly lowered when using them. Businessman can thus earn maximum profit from using slaves and they can be more competitive financially when compared with other markets producing the same goods. This is vital especially for the poor countries when their national income is already low and unstable. As the countries’ economy can benefit from slavery, the countries are reluctant in solving the problem.

    Any other thoughts?

  10. 11 Anna 30/09/2009 at 12:52 am

    Regarding the reasons for denial of existence of slavery by some states in their own countries as posted by Tammy, or I will frame the question as why some states simply do nothing to deal with this grave problem, I have another thought which is, most often, the rulers think that there is nothing they can do about it and the plausible cause of this is, lacking resources.

    This may be true in some senses that lacking resources in those countries does greatly hinder the design and implementation of polices against slavery. Without capital and human knowlegde, little can be done effectively.

    However, I do remember I have watched a documentary about how a little organization spontaneously in Bangladesh (if I remember correctly)was established to enhance the health awareness of people among a village as well as improve the financial status of those married women who are without husbands. What makes me remember the story vividly is its process in acheiving the duel aims. The vaccines, can be administered by the women (after training)to the villagers, and they, through selling drugs to the villagers by ‘knocking on doors’, secure stable income. And the villagers are equipped with knowledge in preventing dieases after getting in touch with these participants.

    Thus, this shows that lacking resources should not be the excuse of non-action by the state rulers. To me, the underlying reason is the sense of responsility the governments have towards their countrymen and the balance of ‘cost and benefits’ in their eyes. Actually, this echoes with Tammy’s saying, those statemen denies because, to them, economic development is far more important. There are lots of alternatives of remedies they can resort to, if they want so, but they don’t simply their children are not in the lines of slavery, who cares?

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