Progress in Afghanistan / Lifting Sanctions on Iraq / Carbon Capture Challenges

The United States is making progress toward its strategic goals in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Sanctions on Iraq are lifted. The United States urges action against child labor. Trade talks between the United States and China are yielding progress. Obama denounces a terrorist attack in Iran. And it’s going to take more than cap-and-trade to reduce greenhouse gases.

Progress in Afghanistan, Pakistan
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The United States is making progress toward its core goal of disrupting, dismantling and defeating violent extremists in Afghanistan and Pakistan, President Obama says. The annual review of administration policy shows more Afghans are reclaiming their communities from the Taliban, says Obama, center at right, with Vice President Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Iraq Sanctions Lifted
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In a meeting chaired by Vice President Joe Biden, the U.N. Security Council voted to lift three key international sanctions on Iraq to acknowledge the “significant steps Iraq has taken” toward fulfilling its international obligations.

Eradicating Child Labor
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Governments around the world should take urgent and effective steps to eradicate child labor practices in their countries, U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis says.

U.S.-China Make Trade Progress
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The just-concluded 21st session of the U.S.-China Joint Commission on Commerce and Trade makes progress on intellectual property rights, open markets and government procurement restrictions.

Obama Denounces Iran Attack
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President Obama denounces a bombing attack targeting Iranian civilians in Chabahar as “disgraceful and cowardly” and says those who carried out the attack “must be held accountable.”

The Challenge of Carbon Capture
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Cap-and-trade and renewable energy alone likely won’t be able to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Therefore, governments and companies are increasingly looking for new and unconventional solutions to the climate problem. Ten major demonstration projects are underway, along with more than 50 smaller projects, with the goal to bring between five and 10 commercial projects online by 2016.

Can We Find Better Alternatives to Child Labor?

Children work at twisting rope at a shop in Bangladesh.

Children work at twisting rope at a shop in Bangladesh.

The other week I attended some of the sessions of a day-long conference on child labor sponsored by the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Department of Labor. It brought together a couple hundred representatives from various government agencies, nongovernmental organizations and educational groups.

The message I came away with is that child labor, rather than a means to help families fend off poverty, perpetuates poverty and is a violation of human rights.

In its most recent report (PDF, 4MB), the International Labor Organization (ILO) estimates that there are 215 million laborers under the age of 18 worldwide, and 115 million of them are doing hazardous work. But one of its saddest findings is that only one in five working children is in paid employment. The overwhelming majority are unpaid family workers.

Apparently there are plenty of people willing to defend the use of child labor – if the comments to my colleague’s blog post last September are any indication. But the experts at the conference contend that putting children to work has many destructive, and, perhaps, unintended consequences. Education is the only way out of poverty, the experts said, and keeping children out of school not only undercuts the child’s own personal future but that of his or her society.

According to Luis CdeBaca, the State Department’s ambassador-at-large for global anti-trafficking efforts, child labor dehumanizes children as well as the employers who exploit them. But he didn’t blame parents. He used as an example impoverished Haitian parents who sent their children away for work as domestic servants. The parents had hoped the employers would offer their children better lives; they could not anticipate the possibility that their children would be brutalized, he said.

Larry Cox, executive director of Amnesty International USA, called upon the world community to find “real alternatives” for desperate parents. But what those “real alternatives” might be is hotly debated and vary from country to country. What are your ideas?

Buyer Beware

Do you drink coffee, tea or hot chocolate? If so, pay close attention to what country harvested your beans or leaves, says the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of International Labor Affairs (ILAB). According to an ILAB report released September 10 (PDF), over 120 goods from 58 countries — ranging from coffee and cotton to diamonds and gold — may have been produced through child labor and/or forced labor.

The September 10 report, required by the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA) of 2005 and commonly known as the TVPRA List, is intended to help individuals, companies and governments “translate their economic power into a force for good that ultimately will eliminate abusive child labor and forced labor,” Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis said in a statement released the same day.

“Child labor and forced labor are inexcusable abuses of human rights,” and reports such as the TVPRA List “show that they continue to be a problem in 21st century society. We must do everything in our power to end these shameful practices,” Solis said. “While the United States is fundamentally opposed to the exploitation of any worker, the plight of children and adults working in forced labor is especially severe. These individuals are among the world’s most vulnerable, and we have a moral duty to help and protect them.”

“It is also important to note that these are global challenges. All countries — including the United States — face situations of labor abuses,” she added.

So the next time you want a hot drink, a cheap T-shirt or a piece of jewelry, you might want to ask who made it before you buy it. I know I will.