Martin J. Walsh
U.S. Secretary of Labor
to the 109th International Labor Conference
On the Occasion of the High-level Event: “Act Now, End Child Labour!”
The UN has declared 2021 as the International Year for the Elimination of Child Labor.
In the Biden-Harris Administration, and the U.S. Department of Labor, we recognize this as an important moment. It’s an opportunity to make a difference in the lives of millions of vulnerable children and families around the world. And it’s an obligation to take a stand for human rights. So we pledge to pursue bold action.
As we have just heard, an estimated 160 million children are subjected to child labor. 79 million of these children experience the worst forms of abuse, including forced labor and commercial sexual exploitation.
Those numbers represent untold trauma, suffering and lost opportunities. They also show that, for the first time in 20 years, global progress against child labor has stalled. The COVID-19 pandemic increased the economic vulnerability of millions of people around the world. And an additional 8.9 million children could end up in child labor by the end of 2022.
This is a wakeup call. We made progress on child labor due to decades of collective international action. But that progress can disappear if we are not vigilant.
The U.S. Department of Labor believes that a holistic approach has the best chance of success.
We must protect children’s rights while meeting the needs of their families, communities, and nations. That means working on every front to address root causes, including poverty, discrimination, and lack of access to education.
The U.S. is committed to working with our international partners, including the ILO and UNICEF. In our pledge for the International Year, the Department of Labor has committed to providing $57 million in 2021 for international action to eliminate child labor and forced labor.
We have also pledged to increase our efforts at home in the United States. We enforce child labor laws in every full investigation that we conduct under the U.S. Fair Labor Standards Act.
We make compliance a core component of training in our national agricultural enforcement and education initiative.
And we are joined by the State Department, the U.S. Agency of International Development, and the U.S. Trade Representative’s Office, in this pledge. The task before us is enormous.
It requires bold action to build back a better future for children and families. And it is more important than ever for all countries to recommit to the work of ensuring that no child is exploited or placed in harm’s way as a result of child labor.
President Biden has said, “internationally recognized human rights and fundamental freedoms are each, equally, the entitlement of all.” We are proud to stand with all of you, as we work collectively toward this goal.
Together, we can build a world where children are free to learn and achieve their potential. This is what we owe them. And this is our greatest hope for a better tomorrow.