THE HUMAN COST OF PRODUCTS

In line with the requirements of the 2005 and 2008 Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorisation Acts (TVPRA) the United States Department of Labour has released a report available to the public providing a list of goods produced by child labour and forced labour around the world. This list includes 122 goods from 58 different countries.

The report (totaling 194 pages!) confirms the latest statistics on people working in some form of forced labour to be at the 12 million mark. Moreover, it states that a shocking 218 million children work worldwide, with over 126 million of these being in ‘hazardous forms of work’.

More goods were found to be made with child labour than forced labour, but this revelation could be for a number of reasons – including the possibility that forced labour is more easily covered up by perpetrators than child labour. The sector which fairs the worst in terms of both child and forced labour is agriculture (totaling 60 goods), followed by manufactured goods (38), and then mined/quarried goods (23). The range of products included on the list span from cocoa, cotton, sugar cane, coffee and rice, to bricks, garments, carpets, footwear (in manufacturing), gold and coal. The list states that cocoa picked in Colombia, Cote D’Ivoire and Nigeria includes forms of both forced and child labour, whilst cocoa gathered in Peru, Cameroon, Ghana and Guinea involves child labour.

The release of this list (found on p29 of this document http://www.dol.gov/ilab/programs/ocft/PDF/2009TVPRA.pdf) is a significant move towards the abolition of exploitative child labour and forced labour because it raises the public profile of these practices. In order for us to use our power as consumers this kind of transparency is essential, because it means we can hold companies to account to ensure that supply chains are free of slavery and abuse.

Also important – the list shows countries from every corner of the world, in various stages of development, supporting the message that STOP THE TRAFFIK promotes – no country is immune from abuses such as forced labour. Ironically though, the USA was not investigated as the TVPRA did not have mandate to explore either forced or child labour in its home environment – despite the fact that we know these practices occur! Furthermore investigations didn’t explore the service sector – where we know that trafficking and forced labour plays a big role – nor did it reach into the realms of illicit labour forms such as drug trafficking, prostitution and pornography.

Despite these shortcomings this report supports the claim endorsed by STOP THE TRAFFIK that it is not acceptable to pursue economic gain through the forced labour of other human beings. At times of economic recession the vulnerable are ever more at risk of being exploited in work situations, so increasing awareness can be seen as an essential prerequisite to starting action that stops companies from profiting from these practices.

(As a side note, in the document you cannot find a list of badly behaving super rich companies…. I wonder if a name and shame list would be more effective?)

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