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President Clinton Ratifies the New ILO Convention on the Worst Forms of Child Labor, December 2, 1999

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Seattle, Washington
December 2, 1999

Adopting a new international standard on abusive child labor. In Seattle today, President Clinton signed a document ratifying a new international treaty designed to eliminate the worst forms of child labor around the world. The President pledged that the U.S. will work with the International Labor Organization (ILO), workers, and employers in a global campaign for the Convention's ratification and to carry out its goals.

Putting a human face on the global economy. The Convention shows that we can achieve what the President wants to do in the round of trade talks being launched in Seattle - help raise living standards around the world. As we widen the circle of opportunity, we must deepen our commitment to human rights and human dignity and put a human face on the global economy. The ILO Convention No. 182 Concerning the Prohibition and Immediate Action for the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labor Convention is the product of a strong consensus between workers, employers, and governments around the world. It shows how seemingly divergent interests can come together to lift up core labor values.


The ILO, a United Nations agency founded in 1919, consists of government, labor, and business representatives from 174 countries. Over the years, the ILO has adopted many international labor conventions. Recently, President Clinton strongly supports the effort to adopt the ILO's 1998 Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work. This Declaration identifies core labor standards: freedom of association, the right to collective bargaining, elimination of forced or compulsory labor, effective abolition of child labor, and elimination of discrimination in employment.

The treaty being ratified today, Convention 182, requires ratifying countries to take "immediate and effective measures to secure the prohibition and elimination of the worst forms of child labor, as a matter of urgency." It defines the worst forms of child labor: all forms of slavery or practices similar to slavery, such as the sale and trafficking of children, debt bondage, serfdom, and forced or compulsory labor, including forced or compulsory recruitment of children for use in armed conflict; use, procuring, or offering of a child for prostitution, production of pornography or pornographic performances; use, procuring, or offering of a child for illicit activities, in particular for the production and trafficking of drugs; and work which is likely to harm the health, safety, or morals of children. This Convention covers all persons under the age of 18, and requires countries to take steps to help those children removed from the worst forms of child labor, such as ensuring access to free basic education

The Declaration on the Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work contains follow-up to the reporting mechanisms to assure accountability and transparency with regard to the actual adherence of Member states to these core labor rights. In addition, the President requested and received Congressional support for funding to back up the new ILO Declaration with resources. In this fiscal year, we will provide $20 million to the ILO to establish a new arm to assist countries to better implement the basic rights covered by the Declaration. An additional $10 million is being provided by for the Department of Labor to work on a bilateral basis on the same objectives.


The process leading to today's signing was rapid, demonstrating President Clinton's commitment to leading the world in the fight against abusive child labor.

  • In this year's State of the Union address, the President pledged that the U.S. "would lead the international community to conclude a treaty to ban abusive child labor everywhere."
  • Led by Labor Secretary Alexis Herman, U.S. delegates to the ILO, including the AFL-CIO and the U.S. Council for International Business, negotiated a convention defining the worst forms of child labor and committed the international community to eliminating them.
  • In June 1999, President Clinton addressed the ILO's annual conference in Geneva - the first U.S. President to do so. There, he urged action: "Today, the time has come to build on the growing world consensus to ban the most abusive forms of child labor - to join together and say there are some things we cannot and will not tolerate." The following day, delegates acted unanimously to adopt the Convention.
  • Within weeks, a Presidential advisory group of labor, business, and government experts completed a comprehensive review of the Convention for consistency with U.S. law and practice. They concluded that ratification of Convention 182 would require no changes in U.S. law and practice. U.S. law already prohibits the worst forms of child labor, and law enforcement and social service programs are in place to implement the requirements of the Convention. On August 5, 1999, President Clinton submitted the convention to the Senate for its advice and consent to ratification.
  • Senator Tom Harkin has long been a champion of the cause of child labor and was a strong proponent of the Convention in the U.S. Senate. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee moved the Convention expeditiously from introduction to final approval. The Senate unanimously gave its advice and consent to ratification on November 5, 1999.
  • The United States is one of the first countries in the world to adopt this convention. The Seychelles and Malawi also have. Ratification efforts are moving forward in many other countries as well.


The Problem: The ILO estimates that at least 250 million children between the ages of five and 14 are working in developing countries, almost half of them working full-time. Tens of millions work under exploitative and harmful conditions. Around the world, young children face hazardous conditions, including exposures to toxic and carcinogenic substances, working in mines, and operating dangerous equipment. Some children labor in bondage. Still others are sold into prostitution, or are indentured to manufacturers working against debts for wages so low that they will never be repaid. And children are subjected to forceful recruitment for use in armed conflict.

Funds to Eliminate Child Labor: The United States is the world's largest donor to the ILO's International Program for the Elimination of Child Labor (IPEC). Since 1995, the U.S. has contributed over $37 million to IPEC for projects that seek to remove children from hazardous work and provide them and their families with viable alternatives.

In 1999, President Clinton sought and won a ten-fold increase in the U.S. contribution to IPEC to $30 million a year. He also secured another $30 million for this fiscal year, which is helping fund projects around the world that:

  • Phase thousands of children out of garment factories in Bangladesh and the soccer ball and hand-knotted carpet industries in Pakistan, provide them with education opportunities, and monitor factory compliance;
  • Withdraw children from, and prevent new entrants into, hazardous work in the fireworks industry in Guatemala, and the fishing and footwear industries of Southeast Asia;
  • Provide thousands of child domestic servants in Haiti and child workers in the coffee industry of Central America with an opportunity to attend school;
  • Address forced child prostitution in Thailand and prevent trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation of children in Nepal.

Providing Educational Alternatives: A recent Labor Department study concluded that universal primary education is one of the most effective ways to combat child labor. In addition to the IPEC funds, the U.S. Agency for International Development this year will implement an innovative program called "School Works!" which will help developing countries improve educational alternatives to child labor.

Increasing Enforcement of Importation Ban on Goods Made with Forced or Indentured Child Labor: Working with Congress, we have dramatically increased the resources of the Customs Service to target goods made by bonded children. Five detention orders have now been issued.

Preventing the Procurement of Goods Made with Forced or Indentured Child Labor: On June 12, 1999, President Clinton signed an Executive Order directing federal agencies to take steps to ban procurement of goods made by forced or indentured child labor.


President Clinton has said: "We must put a human face on the global economy, giving working people everywhere a stake in its success, equipping them all to reap its awards, providing for their families the basic conditions of a just society." To promote respect for workers' rights, the U.S. agenda for the new WTO Round seeks to:

  • Establish a WTO Working Group on Trade and Labor: The group would expand knowledge about the intersection of trade and labor issues, explore ways trade policy can encourage countries to implement core labor standards, and work with other international organizations, including the ILO.

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