THE WHITE HOUSE Office of the Press Secretary
| For Immediate Release || December 2, 1999 |
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
AT SIGNING OF ILO CONVENTION #182,
THE CONVENTION CONCERNING THE PROHIBITION
AND IMMEDIATE ACTION FOR ELIMINATION OF THE
WORST FORMS OF CHILD LABOR
Bell Harbor International Conference Center
9:10 A.M. PST
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you, Secretary Herman; Mr. Samovia, thank you for your leadership; John Sweeney, Ambassador Tom Niles; all the members of Congress here; Governor Locke, I would like to begin -- I have to make a brief statement about Ireland, but before I do, just to illustrate the depth of support here, I'd like to ask all the members of Congress who are here to stand and be recognized, and thank them for their help. (Applause.) Thank you.
Before I make my statement about this important convention, I'd like to say a few words about the truly remarkable and historic events taking place today in Northern Ireland. Eighteen months ago today, the Good Friday Agreement was signed with the promise of a future of peace and hope. Today the promise is being realized. The people of Northern Ireland now have the power to shape their own destiny and choose their own future. Democratic government by and for all the people of Northern Ireland is now replacing suspicion, fear and violence. It is now possible to believe that the day of the gun and the bomb are, in fact, over.
There are many leaders who deserve special tribute for their contributions, but I would like to mention especially David Trimble and John Taylor, John Hume and Seamus Mallon, Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness, John Alderdice, Monica McWilliams, David Irvine and Gary McMichael and so many others.
I would also like to thank Prime Minister Blair, Prime Minister Ahern, their predecessors, John Major, John Bruton, Albert Reynolds. I thank Sir John De Chastelain for his work. I thank the special envoys to Northern Ireland, Ms. Mowlan and Mr. Mandelson, for the work they have done. And especially I thank our great American leader there, George Mitchell, whose patience, commitment and conviction were essential to making this day happen.
The Good Friday Agreement must continue to be implemented in full in word and in spirit. The United States must continue, and will continue, to stand with all those who are unequivocally committed to the pursuit of peace and justice and democracy in Northern Ireland. This is our common responsibility to the children there, whose future is the best reason for all that has been done.
Let me say that the United States is the home of the largest Irish diaspora in the world. Many of us claim Irish heritage. For all the years and all the bloodshed, to have the promise of being over today, this is an especially meaningful day for Irish Americans and I thank you very much. (Applause.)
I would like to begin this day by thanking all the members of the Senate. Thank you, Senator Murray, for being here. And I want to thank the Republicans, as well as the Democrats, who voted on this together. But I would be remiss if I did not say that the first person who ever discussed this issue with me in 1992 when we were both running for the office I am privileged to hold was Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa. And for more than seven years now, at every occasion, he has talked to me about this issue. It has been truly one of the driving passions of his life and without him, we would not be here doing this today. And I would like to ask him to stand.
Thank you, Senator Harkin. Thank you. (Applause.)
I also want to thank Secretary Herman and Gene Sperling and Karen Tramontano for what they did in our administration to spearhead the effort. Perhaps there is no better way to conclude my visit here, because what we celebrate this morning symbolizes in many ways what we're seeking in the launch of a new round of trade talks: not just to lower barriers, but to raise living standards, to help ensure that people everywhere feel they have a positive stake in global trade that gives them and their children a chance for a better life.
We are here in Seattle to continue our efforts to help establish a new consensus on international trade -- that leads to jobs that are secure, development that is sustainable, prosperity that is broadly shared. We seek to widen the circle of opportunity, deepen our commitments to human rights and human freedom, and put a human face on the global economy.
Some say that it is not possible, that the interests of nations, businesses and labor within and across national borders, are too divergent. This Child Labor Convention proves that, at least on this profoundly important issue, it is possible. It is a living example of how we can together come to level up global standards, and lift up core labor values.
The step we take today affirms fundamental human rights. Ultimately, that's what core labor standards are all about -- not an instrument of protectionism, or a vehicle to impose one nation's values on another, but about our shared values: about the dignity of work, the decency of life, the fragility and importance of childhood.
In my State of the Union address almost two years ago, I asked Congress to help make the United States a world leader in this cause, and to start by working to end abusive child labor. We are making good on that effort. Together -- again, across party lines -- we secured the largest investment in American history to end abusive child labor around the globe.
We're establishing the first-ever United States government purchasing ban on goods made by forced or indentured child labor. And we've beefed up enforcement to stop the importation of goods made by such labor. Just last week, the Customs Service banned the importation of certain hand-rolled cigarettes, known as bidis, because of evidence that one firm was making them with bonded child labor.
Today, we build on our achievements and our common commitment. This convention is truly a victory for labor, for business and for government -- for all those who worked long and hard for two year to reach a consensus; a victory for the nations of the world who joined together in the ILO this summer to adopt this convention on a unanimous vote. Today we say with one clear voice: abusive child labor is wrong and must end.
Above all, of course, this is a victory for the children of the world, and especially for the tens of millions of them who are still forced to work in conditions that shock the conscience and haunt the soul; children brutalized by the nightmare of prostitution; children indentured to manufacturers working against debt for wages so low they will never be repaid; children who must handle dangerous chemicals or who are forced to sell illegal drugs; children who crawl deep into unsafe mines; children who are forcibly recruited into armed conflicts and then spend the rest of their entire lives bearing the scars of committing murder when they were eight or nine or 10 years old.
For the first time, this convention calls on the international community to take immediate and effective steps to stop the worst forms of child labor. This convention enables the world to say, no more. We recognize, of course, that no treaty or convention is enough and that to end abusive child labor once and for all we must untangle the pathology of grinding poverty and hopelessness that lies at its root. If we want to slam the door shut on abusive child labor, we must open the door wide to education and opportunity. After all, nations can only reach their potential when their children can fulfill theirs.
John Sweeney put it best when he said economic development is based in education, and school is the best place for children. That's why this convention places a priority on basic education, and we are trying to honor that priority.
Around the world, we are investing in creative solutions to get children out of abusive workrooms and into classrooms. We are giving them a way out of the soccer ball industry in Pakistan, the shoe industry in Brazil, the fireworks industry in Guatemala. We are giving them back the most precious gift of all, their childhood.
And as we work to provide both boys and girls access to schools, we are also working to provide their parents with viable economic alternatives and access to jobs. In Pakistan, for example, when 7,000 children moved out of the soccer ball manufacturing plant into the schools, 7,000 parents moved into jobs they didn't have before, at better incomes.
Micro-credit loans help people in developing countries, and women in particular, to start businesses, raise their standard of living, build a better life for their children. I am proud that through the Agency for International Development, the United States financed 2 million such loans last year. So we have here not only the Secretary of Labor, but the Secretary of Commerce. We see this not only as a labor issue, but a business and an economic issue. We believe that everyone will be better off when children are given back their childhoods.
We are working to integrate the agenda, also, as all of you know, of the World Trade Organization, the IMF and the World Bank with the agenda of the ILO. That is key to making sure that the issues of child labor -- and core labor standards more generally -- are on the international economic agenda and they don't become either/or conflicts. That's why ensuring the rights, the basic rights of labor, is central to our mission here in Seattle.
This is a good day for the children of the world, but we can make tomorrow even a better day. We can do it by seeing that other nations also ratify this treaty and join in our cause, and we can do it by building on the solid foundation of this convention, and the common ground forged by leaders here, in the work of the WTO, the IMF, the World Bank and other international institutions. We have to harness the spirit of progress and the sense of possibility that this noble document embodies. We can light the way out of the darkness of abusive child labor into the dawn of a new century of promise for all the children of the world.
Thank you very much. (Applause.)
Let me just say this. I would like to ask Mr. Sweeney and Ambassador Niles and all of the members of the Congress, the Governor and Secretary Daley, Secretary Slater, to some up and join us as we do this signing, please.
END 9:25 A.M. PST
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