There is a growing awareness among many of the largest U.S. apparel
importers about the conditions under which apparel sold in the U.S.
market is produced. This is a major change from just a few years
ago, when importers were more inclined to avoid any responsibility
on this matter. Codes of conduct are increasingly common in the U.S.
apparel industry. This is a positive sign.
Thirty-six of the 42
U.S. retailers and apparel manufacturers that provided reportable
responses to the survey conducted for this study indicated that they
have adopted a policy specifically prohibiting the use of child
labor in the manufacture of goods they import from abroad. These
policies take different forms - codes of conduct, statements of
company policy in the form of letters to suppliers, provisions in
purchase orders or letters of credit, compliance certificates.
There are marked differences in the codes of conduct prohibiting
the use of child labor among the U.S. companies responding to the
survey. A primary difference with regard to such codes is their
definition of child labor.
- The standards used to define child labor vary significantly
from company to company. For example, a company's policy statement
- state a minimum age for all workers who make their products;
- refer to the national laws of the host country regarding the
minimum age of employment or compulsory schooling;
- refer to international standards (e.g., ILO Convention 138);
- use some combination of the three.
In some cases, companies' policies prohibiting child labor in the
production of their goods do not contain any definition of child
- A small number of codes specifically describe how a policy
prohibiting child labor is to be implemented and enforced.
A proliferation of codes, with differences in some key areas
(e.g., the definition of child labor), leads to some uncertainty.
This is particularly a problem where foreign contractors produce
garments for more than one U.S. importer. During field visits
conducted as part of this study, Department of Labor officials were
informed by foreign suppliers that the variety of codes can cause
confusion. Some multi-customer suppliers said that to address this
problem they are coming up with their own codes of conduct.
It also emerged from the field visits that there is confusion
among suppliers about whether national labor law or a company's
policy (as set out in a code of conduct) should be applied. This is
highlighted in cases where the company standard is more rigorous
than national law. The problem is compounded by the fact that in
some instances, owners and plant managers are not familiar with the
national law on child labor, despite the fact that their customers'
codes stipulate they must follow national law.