The Apparel Industry and Codes of Conduct: A Solution to the International Child Labor Program?

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[Excerpt] In 1993, the United States Congress provided for the Department of Labor’s Bureau of International Labor Affairs (ILAB) to establish a special unit to research the use of child labor worldwide and publish reports on child labor issues. This report is the third volume in ILAB’s international child labor series. ILAB’s two previous reports documented the use of child labor in the production of U.S. imports, as well as situations of forced and bonded child labor. The present report focuses on the use of child labor in the production of apparel for the U.S. market, and reviews the extent to which U.S. apparel importers have established and are implementing codes of conduct or other business guidelines prohibiting the use of child labor in the production of the clothing they sell. A development of the last few years, corporate codes of conduct and other business guidelines prohibiting the use of child labor are becoming more common, as consumers as well as religious, labor and human rights groups are increasingly calling on companies to take responsibility for the conditions under which the goods ll are being manufactured. The term “code of conduct” is used generically in this report to refer to various types of corporate documents establishing policies and standards on child labor and other working conditions. These instruments take different forms — codes of conduct, statements of company policy in the form of letters to suppliers, provisions in purchase orders or letters of credit, and/or compliance certificates. Chapter II provides an overview of the U.S. apparel industry, U.S. apparel imports, major U.S. retailers and manufacturers of apparel and their codes of con- duct. An analysis follows of how apparel companies implement the child labor protections of their codes — using transparency, monitoring, and enforcement as benchmarks. This analysis is drawn from information provided to ILAB by the companies themselves. Chapter III uses information gathered by Department of Labor officials in six countries that export garments to the U.S. market to describe how the codes of conduct are being implemented abroad. Chapter IV contains conclusions on codes of conduct gathered from the review of company policies prohibiting child labor as well as the country visits. The remainder of this introduction will place the discussion of codes of conduct in the broader context of child labor throughout the world. It will give some background on existing international child labor standards and current estimates of child workers. It also will provide some observations on recent child labor trends in the garment industry, and explain why codes of conduct have come to be seen by some as a partial response to the international child labor problem.

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apparel industry; child labor; codes of conduct


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