THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
|For Immediate Release
||June 16, 1999
PRESS BRIEFING BY
GENE SPERLING, NATIONAL ECONOMIC ADVISOR
ANDREW SAMET, DEPUTY UNDERSECRETARY FOR
INTERNATIONAL LABOR AFFAIRS
United Nations Building
12:25 P.M. (L)
MR. SPERLING: Today's speech by the President not only is another step in his continuing role of trying
to forge a new consensus on open markets and to talk about the needs to both strengthen and support
open markets, resist protectionism and, yet, put a human face on the global economy and make sure that
open markets in global economy is raising living standards and not leading to a race to the bottom.
His focus on child labor has been very strong, particularly over the last couple of years. Tomorrow, the
convention will vote on the -- the ILO will vote on this convention. We expect it to pass overwhelmingly.
And then it is the goal of the President to have us seek to get this ratified this year, as soon as possible.
And we will take all steps necessary to do so.
The President also stressed that this is not enough, that child labor is a very difficult issue, it's a complex
issue, that it needs real resolutions that ensure that people are not just being moved from one form of
exploitive child labor to another.
The program that he was talking about, that's run out of the ILO, which is called IPEC, is the International
Program for the Elimination of Child Labor. This program was created in 1992 and they formed partnerships
so that when they are closing a factory they are making sure that the children are trying to get into a
positive situation -- school, particularly -- and that there is support at a local level for implementing it. And
he had mentioned one of the successful stories, cases, which was Pakistan soccer balls. There are several
The United States now supplies 62.5 percent of the funding for IPEC. We are the major donor. This is as a
result of the President's last budget. Previously, IPEC had about $19 million in funding. The United States
spent $3 million. Then we increased ours by tenfold, to $30 million, and more than doubled IPEC's budget.
So the United States comes here having put their money where our values are, in terms of supporting IPEC
and encouraging other countries to do so.
In 1973, the ILO passed a convention, 138, that dealt with the overall larger issues of child labor. Since
then, only 72 countries have ratified that. In the last few years a consensus was building that while there
were disagreements on the fringes concerning convention 138, that should not prevent the world from
coming together and stating a clear position against the most abusive forms of child labor, such as child
prostitution, the use of children for paying debts, bonded labor, the use of children for trafficking and the
use of children in extremely hazardous situations that not only keep them from going to school, but lead to
What you've seen here is the world coming together, through the ILO, to show that they can get
consensus on this. And we feel very strong that this now will have the kind of support that we can push
this through the United States Senate. The United States has not been as strong over the last few decades
in supporting ILO conventions. We hope that this convention will be different, and we're quite confident it
I will stop. If you have any questions, I'd be happy to take some. We also have with us Andrew Samet,
who is the lead negotiator and did an outstanding job, working through many difficult issues in leading to
Q Do you expect any opposition in the Senate?
MR. SPERLING: We have no reason to think so right now. Again, I think that this was designed to focus
on the most abusive forms of child labor. And remember how this works now, this tripartite body, so there
is a labor and a business representative and the U.S. government representative. So this comes through
with the support of each faction of the U.S. that was represented here.
Q Gene, how big of a problem is child labor abuse in the United States? Could you give us a greater sense
MR. SPERLING: Well, I think that most of the abuses that we've seen have been in the agriculture area.
And the Secretary of Labor has, through a salad bowl initiative, sought to try to uncover that. I think there
have certainly been incidences in the garment industry, as well.
The ILO report that is often cited is from 1996 worldwide, which has 250 million children between the ages
of five and 14; about 135 million of those children come from Asia, with about 80 million from Africa. That
is where the largest numbers or the most serious problems are. But, again, we think it's important that one
be cleaning up their own backyard and we will -- we have at the same time tried to take efforts increasing
enforcement; we have more money, two consecutive years, for enforcement in the Labor Department
budget, particularly dealing with agriculture. I believe AP had a strong series of stories of some of the
abuses that were taking place.
We just had the executive order ensuring that the United States Government is not engaged in
procurement activities that involve child labor. And we've also tried to step our customs enforcement. But,
again, that mostly deals with purchasing from overseas and ensuring that we're not allowing things in
under the Customs Act of 1930, that would be made with illegal child labor.
Q What are our child labor laws? Can you help me out. What's our cut-off? What is the age limit?
MR. SPERLING: Well, this is regulated by state. But, Andrew, do you want to --
DEPUTY UNDERSECRETARY SAMET: For full-time employment the age is 16. There are circumstances
under which children 15 to 14 are allowed to work part-time. But it's very tightly regulated as to total hours
Q It doesn't go industry by industry? In other words, that would be agriculture, manufacturing,
DEPUTY UNDER SECRETARY SAMET: There are slightly different standards in the agriculture sector
than in the non-agriculture sector.
Q Lower or higher?
DEPUTY UNDER SECRETARY SAMET: Lower ages, some work can be done.
Q What's the enforcement mechanism in the ILO convention?
DEPUTY UNDER SECRETARY SAMET: Well, there'll be -- there's a system of reporting mechanisms
within the ILO. So when a country ratifies, it's subject to a series of supervisory reports. In addition to
that, under a Declaration on Fundamental Rights that was adopted last year, all countries, member
countries of the ILO, are going to be held accountable on basic standards, a list of basic standards, which
include freedom of association, the right to organize and collectively bargain, nondiscrimination, forced
labor and also abusive child labor. So there's a stepped-up reporting mechanism system within the ILO
that will explain countries' practices to the world.
Q But there are no sanctions?
DEPUTY UNDER SECRETARY SAMET: There's no sanctions in the sense of economic sanctions, if that's
what you're referring to.
Q For either of you, the executive order the President issued over the weekend refers to forced or
indentured child labor. And the definition you just gave seemed to be broader, covering work in hazardous
areas. Is there a reason for -- is there a distinction between that order and what would be covered by the
ILO convention? And, if so, what's the reason for that distinction?
MR. SPERLING: I think the executive order would be broader, in fact. I mean, the executive order instructs
the Labor Department, over the next 120 days, to work with Treasury, Customs and the State Department
in identifying the products, by country, that have a history or precedent of being made with child labor.
That then puts every agency on notice and they even have an affirmative duty to ensure that their
contractors have taken affirmative steps to ensure that the products are not being made with child labor.
And there, there is significant enforcement, going all the way from suspension to debarment from
Q But do you know why that phrase, "forced or indentured," is used in the Executive Order?
DEPUTY UNDERSECRETARY SAMET: I think that's the standard that tracks the 1930 Tariff Act, as well,
so it's consistent with that standard.
Q So you think hazardous would be included in the category "forced or indentured"?
DEPUTY UNDERSECRETARY SAMET: I think in some circumstances it would be and in some
circumstances it wouldn't be, based upon the circumstances if forced and indentured child labor related to
MR. SPERLING: I think the point of the executive order, though, is to put notice to the agencies of the
federal government that we want to take every step to ensure we're not even in the gray areas.
Q Can you tell me if any country in the developing world is going to sign this convention tomorrow?
DEPUTY UNDERSECRETARY SAMET: I'm sorry, I didn't hear the question.
MR. SPERLING: I think we expect that most developing countries will.
DEPUTY UNDERSECRETARY SAMET: I think it's important to understand that the process here is one
that reflects consensus of all the regional groups. The negotiation included very strong participation by
the Americas group, by the African group, by the Asia group, as well. And their investment and their
participation, I think, yields a result in which they are committed as governments as well to try to ratify this
Q Gene, I've got a G-8 question. The President had mentioned that the U.S. would provide resources for
this larger trust fund. Is he going to ask Congress this year for more money for debt relief? And how will
the burden be shared among the G-8 countries for this debt relief trust fund?
MR. SPERLING: Well, first of all, we obviously -- the President has referred to both in the Chicago speech,
and the speech has been what the United States' proposal is that we have tabled -- which is, as you know,
a plan that would more than triple the degree of debt reduction, allowing for faster cash flow relief and
targeting those funds more tightly to the -- of the savings to the alleviation of poverty and child survival
In doing that, there's both a bilateral and a multilateral component. And what the President is referring to
is, to the degree that there is a multilateral component, it will require an expansion of the HIPC trust fund.
And what the President is making clear is that we will actively seek funding so that the United States is
doing its part in an expanded HIPC, or trust fund -- heavily indebted, poorest countries trust fund.
As to the exact apportionment or to the exact timing of what the funds are, I think that I couldn't give more
details on that one because there's not been an agreement yet; and, secondly, that would also go -- costs
will also go to the degree that countries comply and how quickly they come forward and meet the
As you know, we've always, in our proposals, ensured that there was conditionality so that there was --
that the debt relief was being done in a context of reforms that would actually lead to the money being
saved for uses -- for the proper types of savings the world wants to see, such as using those funds for
education and alleviating poverty, and not for improper uses that could happen in some countries if there
was no conditionality on economic reforms tied to the debt reduction.
MR. TOIV: Thanks, Gene.
Q Thank you.
Q Can you elaborate a bit if, in the Seattle ministerial meeting, you will be pushing for the trade and labor
linkage, given that over 120 rich and poor countries oppose it in the World Trade Organization?
MR. SPERLING: We will be, obviously, talking more about what we hope to do at the WTO ministerial, but
there is no question that our goal is to seek a greater linkage of both labor and environmental standards in
the overall discussions.
As to what the exact deliverables will be, what we hope to accomplish there, that we'll be talking about in
more detail in the run up to the Seattle ministerial in November.
MR. TOIV: All right, thanks, Gene. Gene's got to go, I'm sorry.
END 12:40 P.M. (L)