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U.S. Gov’t: If You’re Wearing Clothes from Vietnam, you may be part of the Child Slave Trade

Since 2001, the U.S. Department of Labor has been required by law to disclose the names of industries in various countries that use child labor or slave labor in the production of goods you might buy here in the United States. On September 27 2012, the Department of Labor’s latest disclosure includes a determination based on multiple sources that clothing produced in Vietnam is being made by child slaves.

Department of Labor Graphic link to Report on Child and Forced LaborThe U.S. Department of Labor is required to disclose this fact, but it isn’t required to publicize it. So it is to the Department’s credit that it has linked to this information from its front page, even creating an eye-grabbing graphic link to the report.

Sadly, American news media have largely ignored this report. The Huffington Post noted the report in coverage of a presidential debate on October 23. The trade newsletter Just Style wrote on October 11 that in reaction to the report, the American Manufacturing Trade Action Coalition had called for the exclusion of Vietnam from any upcoming Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement. Textile World, another trade publication, noted the same development. Other than that, there has been no report in the professional news media on the DOL finding regarding child slaves in Vietnam.

Let’s rectify that lapse. The following is a list of sources provided by the Department of Labor to the public, documenting the existence of child labor and slavery problems in the Vietnamese apparel industry over a number of years:

Australia’s Herald Sun: Children rescued from slave labour in Vietnam factory

Human Rights Watch: The Rehab Archipelago

Vietnews: Growing Pain of Child Labor in Vietnam

Tuoi Tre Newspaper: “Child Labor Exploitation” five part series

U.S. Department of State: Vietnam Country Report on Human Rights Practices

Private U.S. Embassy reporting from Hanoi. reporting, January 2011 to 2012

United Nations Viet Nam, IOM, and MDG Achievement Fund. Exploratory Research – Trafficking in Boys in Viet Nam

To the Department of Labor’s list, I’d add Agence France Presse’s report of September 2011. There’s repeated documentation of the Vietnamese child slavery problem. The only question is, will Americans continue to participate in the child slave trade? Despite the stain, will we continue to buy cheap Vietnamese clothes?

4 thoughts on “U.S. Gov’t: If You’re Wearing Clothes from Vietnam, you may be part of the Child Slave Trade”

  1. Bill says:

    My son spent a year in Hanoi not long ago, in work which involved touring quite a few factories. The stories he tells are hair-raising.

    ‘Globalization’ of industry has not only tilted the playing field against American workers (who, rightly, won’t work under the conditions and for the wages much of the under-developed world will), it has also created a vast worldwide market for what can only be described as slave labor. American consumers need to think about this every time we step into a WalMart (or most any other major retailer nowadays). How much of this cr@p do we really need, and at what human cost?

    1. Jim Cook says:

      Well said.

    2. t ball says:

      Perhaps the U.S. should consider making it illegal to import clothes from Vietnam. It’s the right thing to do morally, and would also funnel business to companies doing the right thing.

      I suppose we’d hear a lot more about this if Vietnamese factories were making iphones.

      1. Bill says:

        Alas, it would be meaningless to single out Viet Nam. India, China, Taiwan, North and South Korea, Thailand, the Philippines, Mexico, and most recently a host of African and Central American countries are also big parts of the problem. And consumers in America and Europe would quickly end up naked, living in caves, eating grubs and berries.

        Globalization of commerce is, for good or ill, here to stay. So what we need is a mandatory international standard of workers’ and environmental rights, enshrined by an international convention, most logically under the auspices of the UN. A UN agency could certify (or decertify) countries for the overall level of compliance with this standard, and decertified countries would be punished by automatic imposition of tariffs on their exports. Decertified countries would quickly be motivated to better regulate manufacturers doing business within their borders.

        Tea Partiers would gripe and moan about UN black helicopters, and Fortune 500 corporations would revile the unwarranted intrusion in ‘free markets’ (sic), but American and European workers would recognize that this levels the playing field and would therefore embrace it. Objections to the impact of this program on prices (and it would indeed make things more expensive in the short run) could be moderated, to some degree, by emphasizing the moral dimension (as with “blood diamonds” and “cruelty-free eggs”). Under-developed countries’ obvious concerns could be addressed, to some degree, by setting the regulatory bar at different heights depending on where each country is in its development (for example, by setting minimum wage as a percentage of GDP per capita, so minimum wage would be lower in poorer countries and higher in richer ones, and would automatically rise as a nation becomes more wealthy). The same would go for manufacturing pollution, energy cost of goods, carbon footprint, etc.: scale the requirements to GDP per capita for each nation, so requirements are more lenient (but never absent) for countries trying to claw their way up out of poverty. The only standard which would not be scaled would be an absolute prohibition against slavery and indentured servitude.

        Importantly, there’s nothing tyrannical about all this; it would simply be a standard which signatory consumer nations agree to set on their imports. If Burma or Viet Nam (or whoever) doesn’t want to comply, no problem. But their exports simply won’t be competitive in major consumer markets if they make the decision to opt out of this program.

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