I like kids. They think their bellybuttons are hilarious and can zone out to a screensaver. So I wanted to learn how to avoid consuming products made by kids when I heard about the new Department of Labor report on international child labor. Unfortunately, the 194-page report (PDF) is essentially useless to consumers. It doesn’t tell you which companies are producing goods with child labor abroad, and doesn’t even commit that the goods listed are absolutely produced by children. Instead, the report just lists “Bangladesh: Footwear” and “China: Cotton” as products that could possibly be made with child labor. Or possibly not. On page 29 the report states:
“It is important to understand that a listing of any particular good and country does not indicate that all production of that good in that country involves forced labor or child labor… There may be firms in a given country that produce the good in compliance with the law… Labor conditions may differ widely in different regions of the country, among other variables. The identity of specific firms or individuals using child labor or forced labor was beyond the statutory mandate.”
Fantastic. Not only will the DOL not tell me which Ecuadoran banana packers use child labor, they can’t even tell me that all or most Ecuadoran companies use kids to pick bananas. So what’s the point of the report? The report lists so many items (cotton from 15 countries, rice from 8) that it’s impossible to avoid them all. Basically, this report just makes me feel guilty about buying everything from Ghanian cocoa to Argentinian grapes, while leaving me no tools or information to counter it. Since I’m in California, I’ll at least try to make sure all my fruit and vegetables are local. I can definitely avoid the disturbingly child-produced “pornography” from Colombia, Mexico, Philippines, Russia, Thailand, and Ukraine. But beyond that, I’ll just have to look for a better report, one that actually gives American consumers specific information on child-produced goods.