State Dep't.: Child Labor a 'Significant Problem' in Potential U.S. Trade Partner Vietnam

By Brittany M. Hughes | June 30, 2015 | 6:09pm EDT
About 1.75 million children in communist Vietnam are defined as child laborers, the State Department says. (AP Photo/A.M. Ahad, File)

( – There are currently about 1.75 million child laborers working in Vietnam, according to the State Department’s 2014 human rights report. Communist-ruled Vietnam is one of 11 countries in the Asia-Pacific with whom the Obama administration is negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership, an ambitious free trade agreement.

In its annual report, released 120 days past the congressionally-mandated deadline, the department labeled child labor a “significant problem” in Vietnam.

It cited a recent child labor study conducted by the International Labor Organization and Vietnam government departments, which found that nearly 10 percent of all Vietnamese children aged 5-17 are child workers.

(The study defines child labor as “children engaged in economic activities – ‘activities of economic production, trading, and services for consumption or sale that may be paid or unpaid’ – for more than one hour a day or five in a week for children ages five-11, more than four hours a day or 24 in a week for children ages 12-14, or more than seven hours a day or 42 hours in a week for children ages 15 to 17.”)

“The survey indicated child labor was a significant problem and estimated there were more than 2.8 million economically active children in the country, of which 1.75 million were child laborers as defined by the survey,” the State Department report said.

Of those 1.75 million child laborers, 60 percent worked in agriculture, 22 percent in the service sector, and 18 percent in construction and manufacturing.

More than half of the affected children had already dropped out of school, the department said. About 32 percent worked more than 42 hours per week. Of these, 96 percent were not in school.

“Some children were victims of forced and bonded labor in factories run in urban family houses, particularly in the informal garment sector near Ho Chi Minh City, in privately run rural gold mines and brick factories, as well as in restaurants in major urban centers,” the report stated.

The State Department describes Vietnam as an “authoritarian state ruled by a single party, the Communist Party of Vietnam.”

The administration is negotiating the TPP with Vietnam, as well as Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru and Singapore.

The administration has classified the draft text of the – so the American public cannot read it – but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and House Speaker John Boehner (R.-Ohio) both support it.

The Senate last Wednesday voted 60-38 to approve a piece of legislation known as trade promotion authority, giving the president “fast track” authority to negotiate trade deals like the TPP, permitting him to push them through Congress by a simple majority vote in both the House and Senate, with no amendments allowed.

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