One of the worst abuses in the international labor markets is the use of child labor. The most recent report on the issue by the International Labor Organization found that as of 2004 more than 218 million children were engaged in illegal work, as defined by international treaties. It’s estimated that 126 million of these children were engaged in hazardous work such as “mining or handling chemicals.”
In order to combat the issue, the Senate Finance Committee has included sections in S.1631, the Customs Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Reauthorization Act of 2009, that would ban the importation of goods made “with convict labor, forced labor, or indentured labor under penal sanctions.” Such a measure by the world’s largest importer would strike a crucial blow against the use of child and slave labor.
Business groups and their lobbyists, however, are not taking kindly to the measures. The D.C.-based business newsletter “Inside U.S. Trade” reports that business groups are “worried” about the effects of such a provision, and they expect to see industry lobbyists and foreign governments profiting from child labor to form an “ad hoc” coalition to oppose it:
Business groups are worried by the potential effects of provisions banning the import of all goods made with convict labor, forced labor, or forced or indentured child labor that were included in a customs bill sponsored by Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) and Ranking Member Charles Grassley (R-IA)
Business sources say this reporting requirement could cause DHS to more actively seek out imported products made with child labor, forced labor or convict labor. […]
Sources conceded that this was a sensitive issue because industry groups do not want to be seen as opposing strict measures guarding against human rights abuses. However, one source did expect a push from lobbyists closer to the finance committee mark-up of the bill, and speculated that U.S. industry groups and foreign governments could form ad hoc coalitions to help send a united message.
MSNBC host Rachel Maddow covered the story last night. Addressing the business interests opposing the measure directly, she said, “You think that child labor and slave labor and forced convict labor are cheap and therefore cool with you? Go ahead, make your case. I would love to hear it …. you child labor-endorsing, pro-slavery freaks.” Watch it: