Saturday, November 14, 2009

No to spending taxpayer dollars for goods made by forced child labor

The U.S. government is taking steps to prevent federal agencies from buying goods made by forced or indentured child labor. The policy, if put into effect and enforced, would ban federal procurement of hand-made bricks, cotton, electronics, and toys made by abusive child labor in China, among other countries and other products.

At present, there are “gaping holes in federal procurement policy,” says Bjorn Claeson, executive director of SweatFree Communities. As a result, the U.S. government can now “purchase products made outside the United States in the most egregious sweatshop conditions.”

21 Countries on New List; Only One on Old

An “initial determination” by the Department of Labor on September 10 concluded that 29 products of 21 countries were made by forced or indentured child labor. The products of Burma are the most numerous to make the list – seven in all, ranging from beans (green, soy, and yellow) to teak.

The Labor Department’s action, taken in conjunction with the State and Homeland Security Departments, updates the 2001 list that implemented an executive order issued by President Bill Clinton two years earlier. Burma was the only country on that 2001 list, with 11 products.

According to Labor, the updated list is “based on recent, credible, and appropriately corroborated sources.” In the case of China, the sources of two of its citations, those for forced child labor in toy and electronic manufacturing, were a New York Times investigative article, reporting by the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, and a report by Macro International, a research and consulting firm.

The final decision on the list will come after the 90-day public comment period, that is, after December 10. Comments can be made by email to

The 1999 Clinton executive order stands out as one of the very few governmental tools available to deter official purchases of sweatshop products. The executive order’s penalties are meager, however. Contractors are deemed in compliance simply by self-certifying that they are.

As a result, anti-sweatshop groups did not greet the September 20 Labor Department announcement with celebrations. But the human rights organizations themselves have yet to fully recognize the potential that the government procurement process has for promoting the common good.

Who will take the lead in convincing the Obama administration to strengthen the 1999 executive order 13126 on the “Prohibition of Acquisition of Products Produced by Forced or Indentured Child Labor”?

For more on this subject, see the previous (November 11) posting, "Moving to stop spending taxpayer money on sweatshop goods."
CORRECTION: The 2001 Labor Department determination listed two countries, Burma and Pakistan, not just Burma.
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