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November 17, 2003

US Violating Int. Child Labor Convention

The US joins some of the worst nations of the world in violating international child labor standards:

In an unusual development, the Committee of Experts of the UN's International Labor Organization (ILO) has found the United States Government to be in violation of Convention 182. Convention 182, the newest "core" convention of the ILO, calls for the prohibition and elimination of the "worst forms" of child labor.
How is the US violating the Convention? By allowing children to work in hazardous conditions:
In keeping with the convention, the FLSA bans employment in hazardous occupations and work activities for persons under 18 years old. However, it runs afoul of the convention, in part, with permissive rules that apply to child labor in hazardous agricultural occupations, including a lower minimum age of 16.
Also, because the federal minimum wage- the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)- is the main enforcement tool against child labor, the fact that much of agriculture is exempted from FLSA means that many children end up working in US fields, with injury and death uncomfortably common:
In a significant caveat, NIOSH referred to the FLSA exemptions for agricultural work, noting that its study "does not address statutory issues such as minimum age for work in HOs and exemptions from the FLSA … Many deaths and serious injuries occur among youth not covered by the FLSA."

The report states: "Thirty-five percent of the young workers killed over the 1992-1997 period lost their lives in agricultural production jobs … Youth 15 to 17 years of age working in agriculture appeared to have over four times the risk for fatal injury of youth workers in other industries … Changes to HOs could not be expected to impact these young worker injury deaths since they are exempt from the FLSA."

It's worth understanding that this is not an oversight. The US government is deliberately violating international law in the field of agriculture, something acknowledged when the Child Labor Convention was approved in the Senate:
The U.S. Senate saw the problem coming from the outset and qualified its 1999 ratification with an "understanding" that, in its view, Convention 182 was not intended "to lead to a change in the agricultural employment provisions or any other provision of the Fair Labor Standards Act in the United States." Since reservations to ILO conventions are inadmissible, however, the Senate's legal gimmick for securing a politically cost-free ratification failed to fend off the committee's scrutiny.

The Bush administration, it seems, now intends to ignore the ILO’s determination of U.S. noncompliance with the convention, while keeping it out of the public discourse.

Killing children in violation of international law- it's not just for third world dictators.

Posted by Nathan at November 17, 2003 04:09 PM