Sunday, July 8, 2012

The Challenges of Child Labor Issues in International Trade Policies

By Nic Rangel
Nic Rangel is a 2012 graduate of Albany Law School. While in law school, she was the President of Amnesty International, the Project Director of the LGBT Pro-Bono Project, a member of the National Lawyer's Guild, and a member of the Women's Law Caucus. She has been a law clerk for the Legal Aid Society of Northeastern New York.
Nic is also a 2011 M.PA. graduate of the Rockefeller College of Public Affairs and Public Policy.
This paper was prepared for Prof. Jame Gathii's International Business Transactions seminar, Fall 2011.

Child labor is prevalent in nearly every international trade market today. Over 215 million children between the ages of 5 and 14 are currently engaged in paid employment, nearly half of them work full-time. When the figures account for low reporting of domestic and illicit work, the “invisible laborers,” the numbers jump as much as 30 percent in some regions. Holding an entity responsible for labor violations, however, has proven very difficult and truly uncommon.

Further, combating child labor has been thus far a fairly elusive task. International trade, labor law, and human rights law is comprised of customary law, multilateral and bilateral conventions, domestic law, and the principles common to the major legal systems of the world. These, in combination, make up the legal paradigm available to us to address child labor issues in the courts. However, it may not be a failure, per se, of the current legal paradigm that has prevented the elimination of child labor, for it seems that there are a plethora of laws and regulations against extreme child labor. Instead it may be the way in which international free trade and loan/debt forgiveness agreements affect the way a government operates that prevents poor nations from combating child labor.

There is substantial evidence that laws and regulations do little, if anything, to positively reduce child labor and often has the negative affect of inadvertently driving child labor underground, into the informal sectors. At their worst, laws that prohibit or restrict child labor in communities of extreme poverty may cause more harm to children than the work conditions they are excluded from. The evidence shows us that, depending on the overall economic conditions of the community in question, (compulsive or non-compulsive) free public education, and higher household incomes are the two most effective (and possibly only) means to reducing child labor. Free trade agreements and lending practices prevent these two approaches from actualization though.

This paper begins with a comprehensive view of child labor: explaining both child labor and its primary causes. It then surveys current labor and trade laws, treaties, and guidelines that address child labor practices in Section II. In Section III, it looks at the debate on how to combat child labor practices. Finally, in Section IV, it concludes with a few fairly straightforward remedies.*
* Citations to references in this introduction are available in the paper.
To read the entire paper, open HERE.