Uzbekistan was applauded for its efforts in tackling child labour in the cotton harvest

Uzbekistan was applauded for its efforts in tackling child labour in the cotton harvest

The US Department of Labour has released its '2017 Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labour' report, which features Turkey and Myanmar as the most recent offenders where garment and cotton production are concerned. just-style takes a closer look.

As many as 15 countries have been found to be actively engaging in child labour for cotton or garment production, with a further seven practising forced labour, the 17th edition of 'Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor' has revealed.

The latest annual report indicates the progress of countries around the world in tackling child labour during 2017 and provides global apparel manufacturers and brands with information to conduct due diligence on their supply chains.

While there has been some headway in eradicating the problem of child labour in the apparel industry, two countries – Myanmar and Turkey – have joined the updated list of offenders.

The 15 countries that continue to exploit children for cotton, garment or footwear production include Argentina, Azerbaijan, Brazil, Egypt, India, Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, Mali, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Benin, Burkina Faso, China and Zambia. 

Seven employ forced labour for cotton, including Benin, Burkina Faso, China, Pakistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. And seven practice forced labour in garment production including Brazil, China, Argentina, Malaysia, India, Thailand and Vietnam.

"The industry's short turnaround cycle between order and delivery leads producers to subcontract production to informal workplaces, where abuses often hide."

"Globally, it is widely recognised that the garment industry's business model is vulnerable to labour abuses," states the report. "The industry's short turnaround cycle between order and delivery leads producers to subcontract production to informal workplaces, where abuses often hide. And consumer demand for low-cost clothing squeezes producers' profit margins, often resulting in very low pay or exploitative payment practices."

Progress report

Of the 132 countries assessed, 17 countries made 'significant advancement,' meaning they instituted minimally acceptable laws and regulations, mechanisms, and programmes to address and prevent the worst forms of child labour. These include Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Côte d'Ivoire, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, India, Mauritius, Paraguay, Peru, Rwanda, Serbia, South Africa, Thailand and Tunisia.

60 countries were identified in the 'moderate advancement' list after making "meaningful effort in some relevant areas" covering laws and regulations, enforcement, coordination, policies, and social programmes, which may have included taking suggested actions recommended in 2016. These include Afghanistan, Albania, Algeria, Angola, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Belize, Benin, Bolivia,Bosnia and Herzegovina, Burkina Faso, Cabo Verde, Cambodia, Cameroon,Central African Republic, Chile, Cook Islands, Dominican Republic, Egypt, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Fiji,Gambia, The Ghana, Guinea, Haiti, Indonesia, Jamaica, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kosovo, Lebanon, Lesotho Liberia, Macedonia, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Moldova, Montenegro, Morocco, Mozambique, Namibia, Nepal, Niger, Nigeria, Oman, Pakistan, Panama, Philippines, Saint Lucia, Sri Lanka, Timor-Leste, Togo, Turkey, Uganda, Uzbekistan, Western Sahara and Zimbabwe.

In the minimal advancement category, 42 countries were identified. These include Anguilla, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bhutan, Botswana, British Virgin Islands, Burundi, Chad, Comoros, Congo, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Republic of the Djibouti Dominica, Eswatini (formerly called Swaziland), Gabon, Georgia, Grenada, Guinea-Bissau, Guyana, Iraq, Kiribati, Kyrgyz Republic, Maldives, Mauritania, Mongolia, Nicaragua, Papua New Guinea, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Samoa, São Tomé and Príncipe, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Solomon Islands, Somalia, Suriname, Tanzania, Tuvalu, Ukraine, Vanuatu, West Bank and the Gaza Strip, Yemen and Zambia.

Burma/Myanmar, Christmas Island, Cocos (Keeling) Islands, Eritrea, Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas), Montserrat, Niue, Norfolk Island, Saint Helena, Ascensión, and Tristán da Cunha, South Sudan, Tokelau, Tonga were the 12 countries identified as having made 'no advancement' at all.

Only Wallis and Futuna received no assessment. Countries where the population of children is non-existent or extremely small usually fall under this category. 

The highs and the lows

The list has seen Uzbekistan upgraded to 'moderate advancement' after several years of being in the 'no advancement' category for the forced mobilisation of children in the cotton harvest.

In February the ILO noted Uzbekistan was making significant reforms on fundamental labour rights in the country's cotton fields; that the large majority of the 2.6m cotton pickers in the 2017 harvest were engaged voluntarily; and that the systematic use of child labour had ended.

"This year's assessment reflects the important efforts the country has made to significantly reduce the mobilisation of children for the cotton harvest. However, the DoL continues to call for an end to the mobilisation of adult forced labour for this same purpose," reads the report.

Kazakhstan – though also in the moderate advancement category – was conversely said to have "lacked programs to assist children engaged in the production of cotton which features on the country's hazardous work list."

The latest list adds Myanmar (Burma) and Turkey as countries believed to have been producing apparel or footwear under forced or child labour conditions.  

The DoL found there are children as young as 10 producing garments in Turkey, both boys and girls. The Syrian refugee crisis has not helped matters with many in the Syrian refugee community engaged in work activities in this sector.

In April last year, Primark doubled the number of audits at its supplier factories in Turkey – less than a month after Next and H&M admitted to finding Syrian refugee children working in their supplier factories in the country. Turkey is home to around 100 of the 1,700 factories that Primark uses globally.

"According to international organisations, NGOs, and media sources, there is credible evidence of the use of child labour in small and medium-sized garment manufacturers in various cities nationwide, including Gaziantep, Istanbul, Ankara, and Izmir," states the DoL's report. "Children work long hours, with some reporting working up to 15 hours per day, 6 days per week, and earn exceptionally low wages. Due to the long hours worked, many child labourers in this sector are unable to attend school. Reports indicate that conditions of work in the garment industry are often poor, with crowded, informal workshops often lacking proper ventilation and reaching high temperatures in the summer."

Myanmar was listed on the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2018 for child labour in garment production but, says the DoL, the global garment industry has been aware of the issue for several years and has gone some way to tackling it. 

There are reports that children aged 12 to 17, mainly girls, produce garments in Burma, much of which centres around Yangon State. Research cited by the DoL has found at least eight garment factories in Yangon State with incidents of child labour. And although the government has placed legal restrictions on working hours and types of work for children under age 18, there are reports that children work the same hours as adults with higher risks of abuse. 

The Bureau of International Labour Affairs (ILAB) found some children carry heavy bags and boxes and work long hours, sometimes up to 15-16 hours per day or 60 hours per week, and late into the night. Factories are often poorly ventilated, with temperatures rising above 100°F.

The Myanmar Garment Manufacturers Association (MGMA) has been working to combat child labour, including with the assistance of the ILAB-funded Myanmar Program on the Elimination of Child Labor since 2014. A code of conduct introduced by the body requires that children of legal working age not perform hazardous work, prohibiting them from using fabric cutting machines, certain chemicals, and working during night hours.

"While these efforts are a work in progress, these steps demonstrate the industry's growing understanding of and commitment to meaningfully addressing child labour," says the report.

R Alexander Acosta, the US Secretary of Labour, says the aim of the list is to provide "a sense of urgency" among consumers and businesses to bring the world a step closer to the ambition of being child-labour free. "The United States acknowledges that meeting the ambitious goal of ending child labour, forced labour, human trafficking, and all forms of modern slavery requires that we accelerate the very real progress that has been made over the past quarter century.

"In this 'age of acceleration', we must keep pace by forging new partnerships, introducing innovations, and accelerating actions that take us closer to a world free of child labour and forced labour. It is my hope that these reports will provide you with a renewed sense of urgency to continue this fight and bring others along who will join us in the race toward fair global trade – one that gives children their childhoods, forced labourers their freedom, and US workers a fair playing field."