Sunday, September 13, 2009

Department of Labor Releases List of Slave-Made Goods

Published September 10, 2009 @ 09:13AM PT

After receiving over 5,400 letters from community members, the Department of Labor released their long-awaited report on goods produced by child labor and forced labor today. Thank you all for urging DOL to release this important tool for consumers!

This list was mandated by anti-trafficking legislation back in 2005, but the Bush administration dragged their feet for years. Now, thanks to your voices and the hard work of NGOs like Polaris Project and the International Labor Rights Forum, it's finally here. This list is a huge boon for consumers who want to choose slave-free products. With this list, we as consumers can finally hold companies and countries accountable for the slavery they use in making the goods we buy, and we can decisively take action to prevent slavery in the production of consumer goods. Today, we as consumers are more powerful to end slavery than ever before. And you, through, helped make that happen.

The report tops out at a daunting 194 pages, and can be read in it's entirety here. But let's face it -- no one wants to read 194 page government report, no matter how useful it may be. So here are some of the highlights I've found in my initial read-through:

  • The most common goods which have significant incidence of forced and/or child labor are cotton, sugarcane, tobacco, coffee, rice, and cocoa in agriculture; bricks, garments, carpets, and footwear in manufacturing; and gold and coal in mined or quarried goods.
  • 122 goods in 58 countries are produced with a significant incidence of forced labor, child labor, or both.
  • More goods were found to be made with child labor than forced labor.

There's a long, detailed list that's a little blandly formatted, but it indicates whether goods in a certain country are made with child labor, forced labor, or both. It's important to keep in mind this doesn't mean all goods from that sector in that country were produced with exploitation. Here are some of the worst offenders for forced labor or slavery specifically:

  • Bolivia: nuts, cattle, corn, and sugar
  • Burma: bamboo, beans, bricks, jade, nuts, rice rubber, rubies, sesame, shrimp, sugarcane, sunflowers, and teak
  • China: artificial flowers, bricks, Christmas decorations, coal, cotton, electronics, garments, footwear, fireworks, nails, and toys
  • India: bricks, carpets, cottonseed, textiles, and garments
  • Nepal: bricks, carpets, textiles, and stones
  • North Korea: bricks, cement, coal, gold, iron, and textiles
  • Pakistan: bricks, carpet, coal, cotton, sugar, and wheat

I'm sure in the coming weeks and months there will be additional levels of analysis of the data the DOL has collected. For example, I would be extremely interested in the most natural next step -- finding out what companies source problem products from problem countries and ship them to the U.S. I'd also be interested in seeing the breakdown for services, which is not included in this report. Hopefully, we can look forward to that level of analysis coming soon. And if not, I might just go ahead and do it myself.

In the meantime, this report gives consumers a lot to keep in mind as they try and shop responsibly. I know I'll be checking to see if my Christmas decorations were made in China a little more closely this year.

I urge you all to write a quick note of thanks to the DOL for this report in the comments section to let them know how happy we are to have this information.

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