In recognition of World Day Against Child Labor, on June 12, 2023, the Department of Labor’s Bureau of International Labor Affairs (ILAB) and the Wage and Hour Division hosted, “Within and Beyond Our Borders: Collective Action to Address Child Labor,” which discussed the power of different actors in the lives of children victimized. Panelists included a teacher; leaders in the Department of Labor, USAID, and ILAB; nonprofit leaders; and representatives from business organizations. The webinar also recognized Lalitha Natarajan, an Indian anti-slavery activist, as the 2023 winner of the Iqbal Masih Award for the Elimination of Child Labor.

Panelists emphasized the responsibility of everyone in combating the rising numbers of child labor. Marcia Eugenio, Director of the Office of Child labor, Forced labor, and Human Trafficking, reported that the number of children working worldwide increased by 8.4 million from 2016 to 2020. Thea Lee, who works with the DOL in cooperation with ILAB, reported that out of 131 countries surveyed by ILAB, only 36 had an adequate number of labor law enforcers, and only 44 countries had adequate laws prohibiting child labor. Lee shared that elevated family poverty levels in recent years, in addition to lack of economic opportunity for parents, can increase children’s risk of child labor rights violations. One strategy to prevent child labor is “promoting rights of adult workers, which eases the pressure in vulnerable families to put their children to work.” This could include the strengthening of unions, making wages livable, and other worker protections. In the context of the United States, Jessica Looman of the Wage and Hour Division said that her office focuses on an “assess, address, monitor, lead” approach when investigating American companies for employing children outside of the compliance of the law, encouraging businesses to lead initiatives in their circles to prevent illegal child exploitation.

Holding corporations accountable at every level of their supply chains for their role in child labor was a recurring theme in the conversations. Relationship-building between labor law enforcement agencies and the companies they preside over, layering accountability within supply chains, and responsible recruitment of companies for federal contracts were also discussed as proven strategies to fight the child labor epidemic.

By Jacqueline Glenn, Policy Intern