Getting the Child Slave Labor Out of Your Shopping Cart

by Marsha Rakestraw
Updated January 2023

We hear about forced and child labor, reading about specific instances in the news, and we may wonder whether the sugar, cookies, or bananas we bought last week, or the cellphone we’re using, or the fireworks we enjoy are made with the hands of children or slaves; it can be hard to know for sure.

Recently the U.S. Department of Labor released its 2022 report focused on “a list of goods produced by child labor or forced labor” as a requirement of the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2005.

According to the report, it contains a list of 158 goods from 77 countries that the DOL “has reason to believe that child or forced labor is used in their production.”

You can read the complete report online, which provides details of how the data was gathered, what definitions of “forced labor” and “child labor” were used, why countries might have been included/excluded, and so on, but some of the highlights include:

  • More goods were found to be made with child labor than forced labor.
  • Agriculture is the largest category of child/forced labor, followed by manufactured goods, mined or quarried goods, and then pornography.
  • The most common goods listed as using child labor include gold, bricks, cotton, sugarcane, coffee, and tobacco.

The report emphasizes that a country’s absence from the report doesn’t mean that child/forced labor isn’t occurring in that country (The US isn’t listed, for example.). The report also mentions the differences in interpretation of “forced” or “child” labor that some cultures may have.

And the report includes examples of “good practice” to eliminate child and forced labor, though, as the report notes:

“Solutions must be designed to fit each context, and must account for a variety of factors such as the legal, regulatory and enforcement regimes in place; the number of producers of a particular good in the country; the structure of supply chains; geography; infrastructure; and levels of community activism. Solutions rarely result from unilateral action and, instead, often must be cross-sectoral and collaborative, leveraging the unique strengths, resources and positions of multiple stakeholders.”

If you want to reduce the number of products you buy that are made with slave or child labor, then this report is a good place to start.

It offers lists both by country and type of item, so that you can see, for instance, that Christmas decorations from China are on the list, as are flowers from Ecuador, leather from Pakistan, and cotton from 18 different countries. (For a quick but imprecise overview of how many slaves might “work” for you, check out Made in a Free World’s Slavery Footprint site.)

It’s not always easy to find fair trade and socially just items, though strategies like thrift stores, clothing swaps, borrowing, sharing, making yourself, etc., are always an option. (Also check out our Ethical Consumerism Pinterest board for resources and tips.)

But even when there’s no most good/least harm (MOGO) choice available for, say, your laptop computer or your bananas (except not to buy them), you can also choose to contact those with the power to change the systems and express your views and values.

Additionally, we can work with organizations striving to end slavery and child labor and petition governments to establish better policies and laws.

Find out more about slavery and human trafficking through our global issues guide.

The more of us who educate ourselves and take positive action, the more quickly lists like these will shrink until they are no longer necessary.

Image via ILO in Asia and the Pacific/Flickr.

Be sure to forward this to ONE person who would benefit from at least ONE of these resources.