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Department of Labor Press Release on ILO Convention, December 2, 1999

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CONTACT: Carl Fillichio
PHONE: (202) 693-4650
USDL: 99-
For Release: Immediate
December 2, 1999


The United States today became the first industrialized country to ratify a new international treaty designed to eliminate the worst forms of child labor. Citing it as an example of putting a human face on globalization, President Clinton signed the document ratifying the Convention Concerning the Prohibition and Immediate Action for the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labor, which was adopted by the International Labor Organization in June.

The U.S. Senate ratified the convention unanimously on Nov. 5.

Labor Secretary Alexis M. Herman noted, "Today is an important day in the fight against abusive child labor — a day many of us have worked for and hoped for. This convention is a breakthrough for the children of the world and an important milestone in President Clinton’s efforts to help us put a human face on the global economy. Child labor is not caused by globalization. However, the recent, rapid growth of international trade has raised grave concerns by many consumers that goods we now buy may have been produced under inhumane conditions. The ratification of this convention helps allay those concerns."

According to the International Labor Organization, a United Nations agency, over 250 million children worldwide between the ages of 5 and 14 are working, and tens of millions toil under exploitative and dangerous conditions. The convention addresses intolerable abuses of children in the workplace, such as slavery, the sale and trafficking of children, prostitution, pornography, illicit activities such as drug trafficking, and hazardous work which is likely to harm a child’s health, safety or morals.

Ratifying the convention does not require any change in existing U. S. law, which already prohibits the worst forms of child labor. Moreover, law enforcement and social service programs are in place in this country to implement the requirements of the convention.

The United States is the third country to ratify the convention. The Republic of Seychelles was first and Malawi was the second.

The International Labor Organization adopted the convention in June at the annual meeting of its governing body, which President Clinton addressed to urge passage of the convention. The ILO is a tripartite body made up of representatives of government, business and labor from 174 countries.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jesse Helms, with the support of Sens. Joseph Biden and Tom Harkin, moved the convention quickly from introduction to final approval. Thomas Niles, president of the U. S. Council for International Business, and John Sweeney, president of the AFL-CIO, U.S. business and labor representatives to the ILO, were instrumental in the development and ratification of the convention.

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