6:24 AM Jun 14, 1994


Geneva 14 June (TWN) -- The International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU), an international labour group, claiming some 125 million membership around the world, today launched a campaign against child labour in developing countries and called for trade actions to end it.

The ICFTU delegation met with the GATT Director-General Peter Sutherland on this issue and called for 'social clauses' in all trade agreements including the WTO.

In a report, 'The Best Kept Secret', issued during the current International Labour Conference, the ICFTU said such child labour abuse was found in Bangladesh, Brazil, Colombia, India, Mexico, Nepal, Peru and the Philippines.

The report said it had been researched by its membership around the world.

In the report, the ICFTU has called at international level for ratification of the ILO conventions, for the insertion of a social clause in international trading agreements, particularly the GATT, for campaigns to support boycott of handmade carpets made with child labour in India, Pakistan and Nepal (which are under way) in tandem with a labelling system guaranteeing that the carpets are not made by child-labour, and pressure on TNCs to undertake investigations where there is a possibility that child labour has been used in the production of their products.

In national terms, it calls for provision of primary education and meals in schools for the children, for replacing 'where possible' child labourer by unemployed adult worker of the family, for national legislation prohibiting use of child labour and for prohibiting imports of products made of child labour, and community awareness and trade union actions.

While labour unions are mounting a concerted trade actions to end child labour, some of the active non-trade union public action NGOs, for example in Bangladesh etc, have been stressing that without more fundamental economic measures to attack the conditions giving rise to child labour, the trade-union led trade actions only make the conditions worse.

At a Third World Network NGO consultation in 1993, several of the Asian NGOs, said that the only result of some of the actions had been to drive these children on to the streets to earn a living to feed themselves and their families. Children, girls and boys, in this process, become victims of prostitution, the NGOs said in opposing trade actions, but calling for more fundamental economic actions including against the dominant economic policies of liberalization and structural adjustment.

The highest prevalence of child labour, the ICFTU report conceded, is found within family-based activity, but does not bring out clearly what could be done in the case of such family-based activity, often of families at below poverty and subsistence levels of existence.

"While children have always been involved in assisting with housework, helping their parents in the family shops or in the fields, problems arise when the level of labour undertaken significantly affects children's health or education. For an increasing number of families without land, or who do not have any family members employed in the formal economy, various types of small scale business or craft industries are the only means of survival. High numbers of families drift into the urban areas, with children ending up selling goods or performing services on the streets".

Apart from family-based activities, the report also listed employment of nearly 50,000 children in the match and fireworks industry in Sivakasi, in Tamilnadu State of India; in the garment industry (exporting to the US) in Bangladesh where they are said to be an estimated 40% of the 700,000 workers and with 90% of female child labour, as also on construction sites and in stone-breaking, in carpet-making in Nepal; in the garment industry in the Philippines producing under contract to TNCs women's clothing (bras, girdles, panties and bikinis, marketed in Europe); and in Mexico -- 'street children' are vendors of chewing gum, sweets and newspapers, porters and mechanics assistants.