About the Author: Barbara Shailor serves as Special Representative for International Labor Affairs.
Despite progress in recent years in addressing exploitative child labor, some 215 million children throughout the world are working when they should be in school, and 115 million of these work in hazardous conditions that include exposure to harsh chemicals, carrying heavy loads or working with dangerous machinery. The U.S. has been a leader in combating such exploitation internationally, but much remains to be done. As Secretary Clinton has noted, “...The exploitation of children anywhere should be a concern to people everywhere.”
World Day Against Child Labor (annually on June 12) is a day to promote awareness and prompt action at the local, national, and international levels to end exploitative child labor. Events and outreach activities are held throughout the world during the month of June on this topic. This year, the Department of State and the Department of Labor partnered with the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), the No Limits Foundation, and the International Labor Rights Forum, to host a conference on June 8 entitled “Working Together to Combat Child Labor: It's Time to Stop the Exploitation of Children."
As the new Special Representative for International Labor Affairs, it was such a pleasure to come to State and, in my first month, be involved with new colleagues and old friends in a highly visible and successful conference. With over 200 people in the live audience -- and over 200 attendees from 28 different countries attending online in our “virtual” conference room -- it was a unique opportunity to bring together a wide variety of policymakers and practitioners from government, labor, business, and civil society to discuss what kind of coordinated action is needed to make a difference.
We had several dynamic panels throughout the day with a wide range of speakers throughout the day -- including Deputy Undersecretary of Labor Sandra Polaski; Ambassador Luis CdeBaca from the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons; USAID's Deputy Assistant Administrator for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance Sarah Mendelson and Deputy Assistant Administrator for Economic Growth and Trade Alexandria Panehal; NSC Senior Director for Relief, Stabilization and Development Gayle Smith; Policy Advisor to the Secretary of Agriculture Rohan Patel; American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten; Amnesty International USA Executive Director Larry Cox; Education for All/Fast Track Initiative Chair Carol Bellamy; Fleishman-Hillard Vice President Lionel Johnson; and the International Labor Organization's International Program on the Elimination of Child Labor Director Constance Thomas.
Secretary Clinton's opening video remarks set the tone for the day. She made it clear that to combat exploitative child labor, we must address its root causes -- including inequality, inadequate access to education, a lack of decent work for parents as well as poor enforcement of labor laws. This theme was reiterated by the panelists and conference participants, addressing this issue from numerous perspectives. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis also offered video remarks, and Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs Maria Otero and Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Michael Posner shared their perspectives and encouraged conference participants to think creatively about real solutions.