Position Paper

Position Paper on the “Child Labor Deterrence Act of 1993”


I. Executive Summary p. 1

II. The Oriental Rug Importers Association
and the U.S. Carpet Industry p. 2

III. The Harkin/Brown Child Labor Bill pp. 3-5

IV. The History of Carpet Production and Regulation
of Child Labor in India, Pakistan, and Nepal pp. 6-12

V. ORIA Comments and Suggestions
on the Harkin/Brown Bill pp.13-17

I. Executive Summary

· Legislation proposed by Senator Tom Harkin and Representative George Brown in March 1993 seeks to curtail both U.S. imports of, and international trade in, products made with child labor. The Congress has already mandated the U.S. Department of Labor to provide it with a list by July 15, 1994, of specific industries within specific foreign countries that employ child labor.

· The Harkin/Brown bill would require U.S. importers of products on this list to certify that they have taken “reasonable steps” to ensure their imports are not made with child labor. Without this “certification,” imports of specified products would be banned.

· While there is an extremely wide range of estimates on the prevalence of children working on South Asian looms in violation of national laws, handmade carpets woven in India, Pakistan, and Nepal will almost certainly be included on the Department of Labor list.

· Carpet production and the use of child weavers on family looms have a long and legal tradition in India and Pakistan dating back to the 15th century. Carpet production in Nepal, on the other hand, started only in 1959.

· The Harkin/Brown bill as drafted contains no “positive alternatives” to the use of illegal child labor in South Asia and elsewhere. Any legislation must contain a judicious mix of “carrots” and “sticks” if it hopes to address child labor in a responsible and meaningful way.

· The Harkin/Brown bill should be amended, inter alia,

* to promote “positive alternatives,” especially compulsory, universal education
* to help step up enforcement of national child labor laws
* to differentiate between types of child labor and otherwise to reflect internationally recognized standards
* to require the Secretary of State to make a biennial “determination” as to whether countries are making progress in addressing child labor problems identified in the Department of Labor study now underway.

II. The Oriental Rug Importers Association and the U.S. Carpet Industry

The Oriental Rug Importers Association (ORIA) represents approximately 100 of the leading importers of handmade carpets into the U.S. market. Its membership includes the largest American importers of handmade carpets produced in India, Pakistan, and Nepal.

Carpet imports into the U.S. market, estimated at $691 million in 1992, play an important and growing role in the American economy. The annual retail value of these imports exceeds $1 billion. The U.S. carpet industry– composed of large department stores, rug and specialty shops, and furniture stores– employed a total of approximately 48,000 Americans across the country in 1992, up three per cent from 1991. While ORIA membership is concentrated in the six states of New York, New Jersey, California, Massachusetts, Florida, and Oregon, its imports of handmade carpets are sold in all 50 states.

III. The Harkin/Brown Child Labor Bill

Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Representative George Brown (D-CA) introduced the “Child Labor Deterrence Act of 1993” (S. 613 and H.R. 1397) in their respective houses of Congress on March 18, 1993. Senator Harkin had offered the same legislation in August 1992 but the Congress adjourned before considering the bill. Congressional interest in child labor dates at least to the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, which defined and prohibited “oppressive child labor.”

The stated purpose of the Harkin/Brown bill is to serve as a first step in curtailing international trade in products made in whole or in part by children under the age of 15 who are employed in industry or mining. Its co-sponsors in the Senate include Senators Conrad, Inouye, Grassley, Rockefeller, Metzenbaum, Feingold, Campbell, Dorgan, and Riegle; in the House, they include Representatives Lantos, Kaptur, Berman, Sanders, and Towns.

The highlights of the Harkin/Brown bill are as follows. It:

· directs the U.S. Secretary of Labor to compile and maintain a list of foreign industries and their respective host countries that use children under 15 in the manufacture or mining of products for export;

· prescribes three tests for determining which foreign industries in which foreign countries are to be included on such a list:

(a) whether they comply with applicable national laws prohibiting child labor in the workplace;

(b) whether they utilize child labor in the export of products;

(c) whether they have on a continuing basis exported products of child labor to the United States.

· prohibits imports into the United States of any product made, in whole or in part, by children under 15 who are employed in industry of mining;

· makes violators of this import ban subject to civil and criminal penalties;

· includes provisions such that the import ban does not apply if U.S. importers take reasonable steps to certify that the product from the targeted industry and its host country is not made by child labor;

· requires U.S. importers to sign certificates of origin to affirm that they have taken such reasonable steps to ensure that products imported from targeted industries are not made by children under 15 who are employed in industry or mining;

· urges the President to seek an international agreement with other trading nations to invoke an international ban on trade in products made by children under 15 who are employed in industry or mining.

The Harkin/Brown bill includes language similar to that contained in earlier International Labor Organization (ILO) and United Nations (UN) declarations and conventions. One of the first conventions adopted by the ILO at its initial session in 1919 was the Minimum Age (Industry) Convention (No.5). Later ILO/UN efforts on child labor specifically cited by the Harkin/Brown bill are the Declaration of the Rights of the Child proclaimed by the UN General Assembly on November 20, 1959, and the ILO’s Minimum Age Convention (No. 138) and accompanying Recommendation (No. 146) of 1973.

While no congressional hearing have been held on the Harkin/Brown proposed legislation since its introduction, there were two related and significant developments in fall 1993. First, Senator Harkin on September 23 introduced, and the Senate passed, a non-binding “Sense of the Senate resolution” containing language drawn from the Harkin/Brown bill. The resolution, passed in the form of an amendment to the Fiscal Year 1994 Foreign Operations Act, reads as follows:

“It is the sense of Senate that —

1) the economic exploitation of children, especially the practice of bonded child labor, should be strongly condemned;

2) it should be the policy of the United States to not allow the importation of products made by children who are employed in industry or mining; and

3) the President should take action to seek an agreement with government that conduct trade with the United States for the purpose of securing an international ban on trade in products made with child labor.”

Secondly, the Fiscal Year 1994 U.S. Labor Department Appropriations Act provided funds for an in-depth study of child labor worldwide and directed the Secretary of Labor to complete this review by July 15, 1994. The study, which will identify foreign industries and their host countries that utilize child labor, is essentially the same as envisaged by the Harkin/Brown bill. In order to write the study, the Act directs the Secretary of Labor to utilize “all available information,” including information supplied by the ILO and human rights organizations.

In addition, all U.S. Embassies have received instructions to advise the Departments of State and Labor on “ whether or not child labor is known or widely believed to be used” in their host country industries that export to the United States.

With the U.S. Department of Labor study now underway, a major portion of the Harkin/Brown bill has in effect already been enacted. It is widely anticipated that the sponsors of the Harkin/Brown bill will seek congressional passage of the remaining provisions of the proposed legislation in 1994, with the goal of having a new child labor law in place by the end of the year. According to their staff members, enactment of the “Child Labor Deterrence Act of 1993” is the top legislative priority in 1994 for both Senator Harkin and Representative Brown.

The Clinton Administration has yet to take a formal position on the Harkin/Brown bill. The agencies and departments that will be instrumental in formulating the Administration’s position include the Labor and State Departments as well as the U.S. Customs Service.

IV. The History of Carpet Production and Regulation of Child Labor in India,
Pakistan, and Nepal

The South Asian countries of India, Pakistan, and Nepal constitute the world’s largest and most important region producing handmade carpets. While estimates on the extent of child labor in the region’s carpet industry vary dramatically, each of the three countries has enacted legislation designed to curb the use of child labor outside of the traditional family structure.

Historian and carpet experts agree that children have played a role in the production of handmade carpets since the craft started some 2000 years ago. Following tradition in various parts of Asia, according to one author, “Girls learn to weave as soon as they are old enough to have the manual dexterity. Their first efforts are often made on a miniature toy loom.” Carpet weaving has generally remained over the years a supplementary occupation for agricultural workers and peasants; many carpets continue to be woven on family looms with children typically working alongside adult family members, as they do in agriculture and other economic activities.

There are multiple reasons why children weave carpets. First, they learn a traditional craft that they in turn can teach their future children. Second, children are employed to supplement their families’ incomes, which in South Asia are among the world’s lowest. In the poor rural areas in which most weaving in India and Pakistan takes place, family economics often dictate that children work in addition to going to school — or, as is often the case, work instead of going to school, as schools as such simply do not exist. For the loom owner, the attraction of employing child labor is its relative abundance, although child weavers are generally regarded as less productive than their adult counterparts.

The nature of the employment of children in carpet production varies among the carpet producing countries of South Asia. In India, for instance, child weavers are almost exclusively boys, whereas girls predominate in both Pakistan and Nepal. In addition, children and adults alike in India and Pakistan weave in an unorganized, rural-based “cottage industry,” where it is rare for more than five looms to be located in one cottage or shed. In contrast, children in Nepal typically work in urban compounds with other family members.

Despite these differences, the carpet industries of India, Pakistan, and Nepal are similar in one key respect: estimates of the number of children working the looms, either legally or illegally, in each country, and their percentage of the workforce in the carpet sector, vary widely and strikingly. As this paper will show, these estimates cover such a wide range that almost all, if not all, must be viewed with considerable skepticism. However, child labor in all three countries can be broadly classified into three major categories:

1) “family child labor,” where children work alongside their parents or family on looms, learning a craft that they may in turn transfer to their own future children and families. This category of child labor is generally viewed as non-exploitative and essential to the economic well-being of the family;

2) “hired child labor,” in which children work in their village or neighborhood for a loomowner other than a family member; and

3) “bonded,” “migratory,” “forced,” or “slave labor,” where children are sold by their family of, in some cases, abducted to work away from their home or village. In many cases, parents of these children receive and advance payment from either a loomowner or his agent against the child’s future earnings.

Following are overviews of carpet weaving in each of the three South Asian carpet-producing countries and a description of how each regulates child labor, particularly “bonded” child labor.



Although hand-knotted carpets can be traced back more than 2000 years, they first appeared in India in the 15th century. The Mogul Emperor Akbar is widely credited for starting the Indian carpet industry in earnest in the 16th century when he brought Persian carpet weavers from Persia to India, where they established a royal workshop in his palace and produced carpets equal to those of their own country. After the fall of the Moguls and the rise of British India, carpet weaving declined until the end of the 19th century, when it was reorganized to meet the demands of the European market and large numbers of rugs were exported for the first time.

Relatively low-quality rugs continued to be exported until well after World War II. Efforts to improve the quality of Indian carpets resulted in a substantial increase in production and exports in the 1960’s. During this period of growth for the industry, children began to form a larger proportion of its workforce.

India, which exports over 90 per cent of its carpet production, by 1980 surpassed Iran as the single largest carpet exporter in the world. Its carpet exports in 1992-93 were valued at some $300 million. While India’s major market was traditionally the United Kingdom, which took nearly half of India’s carpet exports in the 1960’s, Germany and the United States are now India’s biggest customers. The United States currently imports roughly 40 per cent of India’s carpet exports.

Regulation of child labor

The Government of India’s efforts to curb child labor date to 1881, and the practice is either outlawed or circumscribed in a dozen pieces of legislation. Bonded child labor was addressed in the Children (Pledging of Labour) Act of 1933, in which the parent or guardian of a child was prohibited from receiving payment in return for a child’s work. The Employment of Children Act of 1938 listed carpet manufacturing as one of the processes in which children under the age of 14 were prohibited from employment. The Factories Act of 1948, which applies, inter alia, to establishments employing 20 or more workers without the aid of power, lays down age limits, hours of work, and conditions of work for children and other workers. The Act, however, is of limited usefulness as it applies only to duly registered undertakings. Subsequent to the Factories Act, Article 24 of the Indian Constitution prohibited employment of children under 14 years of age in factories, mines and certain other areas.
The most recent Indian legislation directed at child labor is the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act of 1986, which replaced the Employment of Children Act. The Act bans the employment of children under 14 in hazardous occupations, including carpet weaving. The 1986 Act specifically permits children under 14 to work in a family “workshop.” Under the Act, “family” in the context of a loomowner, for example, is defined as his/her wife or husband, his/her children, and his/her brother or sister. Press reports from July 1993 indicate that the Indian Labour Ministry is planning new child labor laws to close loopholes in existing laws, including the 1986 Act.
The Government of India’s efforts to combat child labor, which also include the creation in 1987 of a child labor division in the Ministry of Labour, are augmented by the work of international organizations, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and industry groups. Two ILO programs — the International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC) and the Child Labour Action and Support Program (CLASP) — devote considerable attention and funds to the elimination of illegal child labor from carpet looms. Recent articles from Indian publications note that the ILO this year allocated $2.5 million to undertake 20 new projects to eliminate illegal child labor throughout India. The ILO programs are funded by Germany, India’s largest single carpet export market.
The South Asian Coalition on Child Servitude (SACCS), set up the India-based Bonded Labour Liberation Front, is the primary Indian NGO focused on child labor issues. SAACS and a number of Indian carpet manufacturers are working together under the sponsorship of the Indo-German Export Promotion Programme (IGEP) in an attempt to devise a certification system whereby carpets manufactured without illegal child labor could be distinguished by means of a so-called “Rugmark” label.
As for the carpet exporters, the Carpet Export Promotion Council (CEPC) has formed a Joint Action Committee for Carpet without Child Labour. It has formulated and put into place a Code of Conduct that requires all loom owners from whom CEPC members purchase carpets to register and to give undertakings that they will not violate the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act of 1986.

Violation of the Code of Conduct results in termination of CEPC membership. The CEPC is also working on its own scheme whereby carpets made without illegal child labor might, if practical, be certified and identified.

Although it is impossible to quantify the magnitude of illegal child labor in India, the country’s overall child labor force — estimated at between 17 to 120 million, depending on the source — is undoubtedly the world’s largest. According to Indian Labour Ministry statistics cited by the U.S. Department of State’s annual human rights report, one out of four Indian children between the ages of 5 and 15 is working. In the carpet industry specifically, estimates run a huge gamut: as few as 40,000 and as many as one million children are employed , many of them legally under Indian law and ILO standards. The use of illegal bonded child labor in Indian carpet weaving has been estimated at anywhere between 3-13 per cent of the workforce.



Since Pakistan was part of India until 1947, its history of carpet weaving closely resembles India’s. Carpet weaving in what is now Pakistan, however, probably predated Akbar’s efforts to bring carpet artists and weavers from Persia. By then, nomadic weavers in the Sind and Baluchistan, in addition to carpet production in the Punjab, already flourished. Akbar’s contribution was to establish royal looms at Lahore, the current seat of Pakistan’s carpet business.

After partition, Pakistan’s carpet production took a different course from India’s. Its decline was reversed with heavy government support that included both subsidies and reorganization. Moslem weavers who had immigrated from India were joined by Turkoman weavers from the north in large weaving centers located in and around the cities of Lahore and Karachi. Pakistan’s carpet weaving was booming by the early 1960s and now accounts for export earnings in excess of $235 million per year. The Pakistan Carpet Manufacturers and Exporters Association (PCM&EA) estimates that 97 per cent of the country’s carpet production is exported.

Regulation of child labor

Child labor in Pakistan is limited by at least four separate statutes and Article 11 of the Constitution. The definition of what constitutes a child was most recently found in the Employment of Children Act, passed by the National Assembly in 1991, which stated that a child was “a person who has not completed his 14th year of age.” The Act also reiterated restrictions against the employment of children in hazardous industries but did not include tougher enforcement provisions.

The Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act of 1992 was the first law officially recognizing the existence of bonded labor, including that of children in Pakistan. It outlawed the bonded labor system, canceled all existing bonded debts, and forbade lawsuits for the recovery of existing bonded debts. Violations of the Act are punishable by a five year prison term and a $2000 fine.

As is the case in India, estimates of the number of children working on Pakistan’s carpet looms span a wide range. The PCM&EA estimates that a total of 1.5 million weavers are employed in Pakistan making handmade carpets, of which eight per cent — or 120,000 — are children. The PCM&EA further states that the major portion of the children employed as weavers in Pakistan work on family looms. Senator Harkin, in introducing his child labor bill in March 1993, cited a 1991 ILO estimate of 50,000 children working as bonded laborers in Pakistan’s carpet production. By contrast, another study reportedly concluded that about a million children are engaged in carpet weaving in Pakistan, although the study did not differentiate between those employed legally and illegally.

Yet another organization — the Pakistan Bonded Liberation Front — claims that the Government of Pakistan maintains 50,000 boys and girls aged 4-12 at state-run carpet weaving “factories” and that an additional 500,000 children are employed at privately owned carpet centers. Critics of this last organization point out that carpet production is a cottage industry in Pakistan, that no carpet “factories” exist in the usual sense of the word, and that looms are owned by private individuals, not the Government.

In order to tackle the problem of illegal child labor in Pakistan’s carpet production, the PCM&EA recently proposed that a Committee for Eradication of Child Labour be formed. Its membership would include the PCM&EA as well as NGOs, human rights organizations, and the Pakistani Government. The objective of the new organization would be to coordinate efforts to end all illegal and exploitative forms of child labor, especially in the carpet sector.



Nepal has historically never been considered even a minor rug producing country. Unlike the long tradition of carpet weaving in India and Pakistan, the Nepalese carpet industry did not exits until 1959, when an influx of Tibetan refugees started production of rugs that are largely faithful to traditional Tibetan designs.

There are three principal differences between carpet weaving in Nepal and elsewhere in South Asia: carpet design, knot count, and location of looms. Nepalese carpets mainly employ Tibetan designs — or, in some cases, contemporary designs; Indian and Pakistani carpets primarily use designs of Persian origin. Weaving technique is totally different from that found in India and Pakistan, as there are usually 30-50 knots per square inch compared to 120-400 in a typical Indian or Pakistani carpet.

Further, carpet production in India and Pakistan is a cottage industry, with looms scattered over hundreds of thousands of miles in rural areas; in contrast, the large majority of Nepalese looms are situated in urban compounds, where weaving “halls” are surrounded by family living quarters. The Nepalese weaving compounds today are fashioned after the original all-inclusive refugee camps, offering food, shelter, health maintenance, child care and schools.

The Nepalese carpet industry has expanded dramatically in recent years, with annual exports valued at approximately $175 million. The carpet industry is the country’s leading source of foreign exchange, accounting for 64 per cent of total export earnings. Almost all Nepalese carpet exports go to the European market; U.S. imports currently stand at only about $4 million per year, according to the Carpet and Wool Development Board (CWDB), a parastatal organization.

Regulation of child labor

The Nepalese Constitution of 1990 established a minimum age of 16 for employment in industry and 14 in agriculture. It also stipulated that children shall not be employed in factories, mines, or similar hazardous work. In addition, a law specifically designed to protect the rights of children was passed by the Parliament in May 1992. Article 20 of the Constitution bans forced labor in any form.

As might be expected given the Indian and Pakistani cases, there is a wide range of estimates on the number of workers in the Nepalese carpet industry and the number of children employed in the sector. The CWDB places total direct employment in the carpet weaving sector at 100,000, including children; it estimates that an additional 100,000 adults, but no children, work indirectly in carpet production — carding, spinning, dying, washing, etc. The Nepalese Government says that only about nine per cent, or 9,000, of the 100,000 direct laborers in the carpet industry are children. In comparison, Child Workers in Nepal (CWIN) puts total employment in the carpet industry at 300,000, with children making up roughly half of this number.

Recognizing that it is part of Nepal’s “socio-economic reality,” CWIN’s is not now appealing to remove all children from the carpet industry. Rather, it asks for “social justice,” including equal pay for equal work, limitation of working hours, payment of minimum wages, no night work, and the basic right to education and health care. Most Nepalese carpet exporters agree with CWIN’s emphasis.

As in India, there is also a movement in Nepal for establishing a mechanism for certifying carpets produced without child labor. Participants from the Carpet Association, CWIN, the Nepal Children’s Organization, the ILO, UNICEF, the CWDB, and the Nepalese Government are expected to meet in early 1994 to discuss a certification process. Under the current plan, a non-profit company would be formed consisting of exporters, importers, an NGO, and a UN agency such as the ILO or UNICEF. If an exporter agreed to certification — which would be done on a voluntary basis — a service charge for certification would be levied on both the exporter and importer.

V. ORIA Comments and Suggestions on the Harkin/Brown Bill

The Harkin/Brown bill is not directed at either specific countries or specific industries. Rather, the certification requirement envisaged in the legislation would apply only to those countries, and industries within those countries, identified in the Department of Labor study to be completed by July 15, 1994. The Department of Labor study will rely heavily on reports from U.S. embassies and consulates, which have already supplied information (contained in the Department of State’s annual report to Congress on human rights) on the use of child labor — both legal and illegal — in Indian, Pakistani, and Nepalese carpet production. With this history, it is almost certain that the Department of Labor submission will cite the carpet industries in India, Pakistan, and Nepal as employing child labor. If the certification sections of the Harkin/Brown bill become law, U.S. importers of carpets made in these countries would be required to certify, under the threat of civil and criminal penalties, that they have taken “reasonable steps” to ensure that their imports were not produced with child labor.

Against this background, ORIA offers the following comments and suggestions on the Harkin/Brown draft legislation. ORIA hopes that its members have the opportunity to expand on these points during congressional hearings anticipated in 1994.

Point 1: ORIA applauds Senator Harkin, Representative Brown, and co-sponsors of their legislation for raising the profile — in South Asia, in the United States, and elsewhere of the global problem related to illegal child labor.

In spite of huge discrepancies in estimates of the number of children employed, in contravention of national laws, in the production of Indian, Pakistani, and Nepalese carpets, there is no doubt that the use of illegal child labor persists in these sectors and should be eradicated. ORIA agrees that the promotion of human rights should be a fundamental principle guiding American trade and diplomatic relations; it further agrees that the Governments of South Asia for a variety of reasons, have not sufficiently addressed the use of illegal child labor in their societies and that greater efforts must be made in this regard.

Point 2: Because of the wide range of estimates of the number of children working illegally in the production of carpets, the United States should provide technical assistance and funding for the Governments of India, Pakistan, and Nepal to conduct national loom censuses and loom registration.

The U.S. Department of Labor’s publication, International Child Labor Problems (1993), describes succinctly the statistical problem in discussing child labor: “Although there is consensus that the problem of child labor is serious, widespread, and growing, there is also a paucity of detailed information about this problem.

The best source is the worker rights section of the Department of State’s Human Rights Report followed by the ILO’s Child Labor Report. But both reports are based on partial data, and even that is not consistent over time.”

As the range of child labor estimates contained in this paper indicates, there is no basic agreement on the scope of the problem. Child Labor is a highly emotional issue, and the frequent subject of hyperbole and misinformation. In ORIA’s view, all of the current statistics concerning child labor in South Asian carpet production must be regarded as suspect. On the other hand, if illegal child labor is to be addressed in an effective manner, the problem has to be defined in a rational, methodologically neutral manner. There has been no loom census in India for decades, and none ever in either Pakistan or Nepal. Loom registration has never occurred in any of the three countries. These steps are prerequisites for tackling illegal child labor in carpet producing areas such as the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, where looms are spread over a 100,000 square mile radius.

It is ORIA’s firm view that the Department of Labor study currently underway, however well-intentioned, is unlikely because of budgetary and time constraints to define South Asia’s child labor problem with the needed precision. A better approach would be to enlist the services of the U.S. Bureau of the Census, which has worked with the U.S. Agency for International Development in a variety of countries with censuses and registration projects similar to those envisaged by ORIA. Alternatively, the United States should seek the help and resources of the World Bank and/or the Asian Development Bank to conduct national loom censuses and registration.

Point 3: In order to play a constructive role in the eradication of illegal child labor, the United States must identify and fund “positive alternatives” to the employment of children in carpet production and other industries.

As noted in various industry, NGO, and ILO documents, it is wholly unrealistic to expect that child labor can be eradicated by fiat and without alternatives in place. Any plan to end child labor in the production of carpets begs the question of what happens to the children if they are removed from the looms.

As others have suggested, these children are likely otherwise to drift back into work — either the same work, or if that is prevented, into some other kind of work that is possibly more dangerous — unless alternatives are presented. Tens of thousands of South Asian children are employed in the match and fireworks industries, stone quarries, brick kilns, mines, glass and lock industries. As the Harkin/Brown bill is currently written, it is possible that children now working on carpet looms may be forced to migrate into these organized, mostly urban industries, which are demonstrably more dangerous — but not covered by the Harkin/Brown bill since their production is not exported.

ORIA suggests that the single most important “positive alternative” to the use of illegal child labor is compulsory and universal education. While access to education is a “given” in the United States, it remains only a concept in many parts of South Asia. Contrary to the statement contained in the Harkin/Brown bill that “the employment of children…commonly deprives the children of the opportunity for basic education,” there is demonstrably no educational alternative for many children now working on looms in South Asia. In this regard, India and Pakistan, in addition to seven other highly populated developing countries, pledged in December 1993 at an international education summit in New Delhi to provide their children with universal education “‘by the year 2000 or at the earliest possible moment.” UNESCO and Unicef statistics released at the summit point out that net enrollment for primary schooling currently stands at only 29 per cent in Pakistan and 66 per cent in India; similarly, only 59 per cent of these Pakistani children, and 61 per cent of these Indian children, reach the fourth year of schooling.

In this context, the Harkin/Brown bill should be amended, or separate legislation offered, to advance universal, compulsory education in countries where illegal child labor persists. As the ILO has noted, “education is the single most important means of drawing children away from the labor market.” In addition, because of the crucial financial role child workers play in many families, their parents must be offered economic opportunities to compensate for the loss of income that would result from their children’s school attendance.

Point 4: The U.S. Government, either directly or through a multilateral agency, should provide funding for stepped-up enforcement of national child labor laws already on the books. For their part, the Governments of India, Pakistan, and Nepal must make a commitment to better enforcement and toughen penalties for violations of child labor laws.

The ILO’s 1992 report on child labor provides an example of what can be achieved with strong legislation, a well-staffed inspectorate, and rigorous enforcement of child labor laws. The fine for illegal employment of children in Hong Kong is roughly $1300; regular inspections (250,000 alone in 1986) are carried out by 244 inspectors of the Women and Young Persons Division of the Hong Kong Labour Department. By contrast, the huge Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, where 80 per cent of India’s carpets are produced, reportedly only employs 100 inspectors. As violators of India’s child labor laws are rarely prosecuted, the minimal amount of their potential fines — with the capacity in itself to act as a powerful deterrent — is irrelevant.

The Harkin/Brown bill must recognize the fact that India, Pakistan, and Nepal are among the world’s poorest countries. Each, however, is engaged in sweeping economic reform programs that promise faster national development and progress. Enforcement of social laws, however theoretically important, often remains under- or unfunded in all developing countries, including those of South Asia. Before the United States enacts de facto trade sanctions against already economically disadvantaged countries, it has the responsibility first to assist them to conform to a standard that has heretofore never been achieved.

Point 5: The United States should ratify the ILO Minimum Age Convention (No. 138) before enacting any child labor legislation — such as the Harkin/Brown bill — with extraterritorial effect.

In order to set an example for other countries, the U.S. Senate should immediately ratify this ILO convention. Ratifying the convention would send a strong signal to other countries such as India, Pakistan, and Nepal to do likewise; for the United States not to ratify this important convention would appear hypocritical.

Point 6: To demonstrate its concern and to increase the likelihood that other countries will address the problem, the Harkin/Brown bill should require the U.S. Secretary of State to make a biennial “determination” as to whether individual countries are making progress in eradicating illegal child labor in sectors to be identified by the Department of Labor study. If progress is not made, imports of specified products from specified countries should be banned.

ORIA members unanimously believe that importer certification, as outlined in the Harkin/Brown bill, is unworkable and places an excessive, improper burden on U.S. industry.

Under the framework proposed by the Harkin/Brown bill, American carpet importers would likely be forced to certify, under the threat of civil and criminal penalties, that they had taken undefined and unspecified “reasonable steps” to ensure their carpet imports were not made with illegal child labor. Given the fact that most carpet looms are scattered over hundreds of thousands of miles in rural South Asia, enforcement of child labor laws is at best a herculean task for national authorities in India, Pakistan, and Nepal; no matter what “reasonable steps” U.S. importers half way around the world might take, it would be imprudent, if not impossible, for them to “certify” that their South Asian suppliers did not employ child labor — and, since the U.S. carpet importers would be subject to prosecution, it would be legally and commercially risky as well. Similarly, given the different standards in South Asia concerning intellectual property generally and trademarks specifically, U.S. importers would have great difficulty in determining whether a “Rugmark” label was validly affixed to a South Asian carpet.

A realistic, viable alternative is a U.S. Executive Branch “determination” process similar to that contained in the Jackson- Vanik amendment to the Trade Act of 1974. Under ORIA’s proposed framework, the Secretary of State — in consultation with the Secretary of Labor — would issue a finding every two years as to whether individual countries were making progress in addressing illegal child labor in industries identified by the Department of Labor study to be completed in July. The first “determination” would be made by the Secretary of State two years after the Department of Labor study is released, giving ample time for affected countries to take meaningful steps to combat their child labor problems. The prospect of a U.S. import ban of their products, as identified by the Department of Labor study, should provide a strong incentive for South Asian governments to accelerate their efforts to stamp out illegal child labor.

Point 7: The age limitation in the Harkin/Brown bill should be amended to reflect the ILO standard.

The Harkin/Brown bill aims to halt the employment of children under the age of 15. The Indian, Pakistani, and Nepalese laws prohibit the employment of children, at least in carpet manufacturing, under the ages of 14, 15, and 16, respectively. A uniform standard is essential for all countries.

In this regard, the ILO Minimum Age Convention (No. 138) of 1973 should be applied. The Convention fixes the minimum age for employment at not less than 15 years, but permits developing countries such as those of South Asia — “where there is an insufficiently developed economy and educational facilities” — to set a minimum age of 14. The age 14 standard would also accord with proposed amendments to U.S. child labor laws, which would ban employment — now legal — of migrant or seasonal workers under the age of 14.

Point 8: Similarly, the Harkin/Brown bill should be amended to differentiate more clearly between legal and illegal child labor and to permit children to work in family enterprises, including on looms, provided, where available, they also attend school.

As the Pakistan Carpet Manufacturers & Export Association has noted, “While family unit labour is unavoidable, hired child labour is deplorable, bonded child labour is both disgusting and inhuman, and efforts should be made to stamp it out.” As drafted, the Harkin/Brown bill makes no distinction between the three types of child labor. The primary target of the bill, and other effort to address the problem of child labor, should necessarily be bonded child labor; the second most important target should be hired child labor.

By lumping family child labor into the same category, the Harkin/Brown bill ignores the economic necessity for and, in many cases, the desirability of, children working alongside their families; further, this lack of distinction diminishes the possibility that the problem of bonded child labor will be attacked in a meaningful and effective way.

ORIA also notes that current U.S. child labor laws, as well as proposed amendments now being considered, allow American children under the age of 14 to work on family farms. Against this background and for these reasons, family labor should be permitted in an amended Harkin/Brown bill, provided the children in question attend school, where available, and work only part-time or on a seasonal basis.


Without changes in the Harkin/Brown bill as recommended above, ORIA believes its enactment would be punitive to three U.S. friends in South Asia — India, Pakistan, and Nepal — and hold the prospect for worsening, not ameliorating, the problem of child labor in these countries. Indeed, if the goal of the Harkin/Brown bill is to lead, not punish, its language must recognize the difficulty in changing employment practices that have occurred over a period of time longer than the United States has existed as a sovereign state.