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Gold via child labour in South America

Lat week The US Department of Labor released this 194 page report (or check the press release here) compiled in conjunction with the International Bureau of Labor Affairs (ILAB) that lists 122 different goods from 58 countries that (and let’s quote them):

“ILAB has reason to believe are produced by forced labor, child labor or both, in violation of international standards”.

The report then goes on to list some of the fun things that children do for pin money and adults do because they’re forced to in different parts of the world. LatAm countries listed are Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Dom Rep, Ecaudor, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay and Peru. Typical sectors are agro and service industries.

But a simple list of countries like that doesn’t do justice to the real story and to fully understand the situation, the whole report needs a good read. Anybody who lives or visits LatAm knows that child labour is common. Also, most realize that the vast majority of child labour is voluntary and is often done under family supervision (e.g. covering the family’s market stall for a shift and selling the fruit). After all, a 14 year old doing a morning newspaper round can be painted as something devilish by the right use of context and a devious turn of pen.

Also, the report does make it clear that many countries in South America are at the forefront in the battle against abusive forms of labour (e.g. coerced child labour and forced labour) as this section makes clear:

Some South American governments have been at the forefront of action against forced labor. Brazil and Peru have each approved national action plans against forced labor, while Bolivia has created a Transitional Plan for the Guaraní Communities that involves several national ministries and addresses forced labor in the Chaco region. In Argentina, there was rapid government response after a 2006 fire that killed six workers including four children involved in forced labor. The Government of Argentina and the City of Buenos Aires increased labor inspections, closed down clandestine workshops, and established a hotline and website to report forced and exploitive labor situations. In July 2009, the government’s National Institute for Industrial Technology, together with the Government of Buenos Aires, and La Alameda, a civil society organization working to end forced and child labor, inaugurated an innovative Demonstration Textile Center that highlights collaboration among local government, national government, civil society organizations, and religious groups to provide employment alternatives to workers rescued from forced labor situations.

However the report does mention things like child labour in the artisan gold mining sectors of countries such as Ecuador, Bolivia and Peru. Having been witness to this on a trip to the La Escondida mine in southern Peru once upon a time (and having read reports like this one that talk about the thousands of children exposed to the risk of mining in the Andean region) I’m happy that the USA is bringing a spotlight on some of the mining practices in the region that the world can do without. Finally, the report also mentions that Peru has forced labor working the gold mines; that’s not funny at all.

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