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Fact Sheet
Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
Washington, DC
October 31, 2008

Child Labor: U.S. Policy and Action

The U.S. Government works with foreign governments, United Nations (UN) agencies, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and others to monitor, report on, and prevent the worst forms of child labor and to protect and assist children who are involved in exploitative child labor.

U.S. Policy Regarding Child Labor

Under the U.S. Tariff Act of 1930, the Department of Homeland Security Immigration and Customs Enforcement is charged with refusing entry to any goods identified as made by forced laborers, including children.

Additionally, in 1998, Executive Order 13126 prohibited the procurement by the USG of any items made by forced and indentured child labor. The Department of Labor (DOL) is responsible for maintaining a list of all such items. The list includes products in Burma and Pakistan.

In 1999 the U.S. ratified International Labor Organization (ILO) Convention 182. The U.S. encourages all countries to ratify ILO Convention 182 against the Worst Forms of Child Labor and ILO Convention 138 on the Minimum Age.

Convention 182 defines the “worst forms of child labor” to include trafficking, forced and bonded labor, forced recruitment in the armed forces, use of children for prostitution or pornography, illicit activity, or work likely to harm the health, safety, or morals of children. As of 2008, 182 countries have ratified ILO Convention 182.

The U.S. continues to highlight the significance of the child labor issue through the Harkin-Engel Protocol to ensure that the chocolate that we eat does not come from the hands of children working under forced or harmful circumstances. The Protocol calls for the U.S. chocolate industry to certify that cocoa beans and their derivative products have been grown without any of the worst forms of child labor.

Trade preference programs such as the African Growth and Opportunity Act, Caribbean Basin Initiative and the Generalized Systems of Preferences contain eligibility criteria that include whether a country is “taking steps” or is making progress towards establishing the protection of internationally-recognized worker rights, including child labor.

The effective prohibition of child labor, particularly in its worst forms, is also included as a core labor standard in recent Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) signed by the U.S. As a result, parties to FTAs have an obligation to effectively enforce child labor laws in trade-related sectors.

U.S. Action To Improve the Situation

The Department of State’s annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices and the Trafficking in Persons Reports cite countries in which child labor occurs. The practice is also reported on in the Department of Labor’s annual Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor Report mandated by the Trade and Development Act of 2000.

The Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (DRL) oversees the Partnership to Eliminate Sweatshop program which aims to work with companies, governments, NGOs and worker organizations to promote worker rights and elimination of sweatshop labor worldwide, including by children.

In October 2006, DRL and DOL co-hosted the first Multi-stakeholders Cocoa Forum focused on encouraging responsible labor practices in West African cocoa producing regions. Several U.S. cocoa and chocolate manufacturers attended the meeting. Since that meeting DRL has regularly engaged with these companies and their industry associations to monitor the progress of their initiatives to eliminate the worst forms of child labor in the cocoa sector in Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire. Many of them presented a report on their progress at the second Multi-stakeholders Cocoa Forum co-hosted by DRL and Bureau of African Affairs in April 2007. That forum also included substantive discussion on the challenges that stakeholders have faced in implementing their initiatives and an exchange of ideas on how to overcome those obstacles. The third forum was co-hosted with the Belgian Government in June 2008.

The Department of State’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons has programs to combat child labor trafficking.

DOL has a program to combat exploitative child labor internationally and has $330 million in funding to go towards at least 89 currently active child labor projects worldwide. To implement these projects, DOL has funded a number of different organizations. One of the organizations to which DOL has provided funding is the ILO’s International Program on the Elimination of Child Labor (ILO-IPEC). These technical cooperation projects aim to remove and prevent children from engaging in hazardous work, provide children and their families with direct services, build the capacity of governments and local organizations to combat child labor, increase the knowledge base on child labor, raise public-awareness about the hazards of child labor and benefits of education. DOL also publishes information on international child labor issues through its reports on the topic.

Pursuant to Congressional appropriations language, DOL announced in 2006 the funding of a $4.3 million 3-year project to oversee public and private efforts to eliminate the worst forms of child labor in the cocoa sector in Cote D’Ivoire and Ghana.

DRL and labor officers coordinate with the DOL’s Office of Child Labor, Forced Labor, and Human Trafficking and support their efforts with ILO-IPEC.

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