The US Department of Labor most recent ‘List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor‘ features two new countries in respect to sugarcane: Cambodia and Vietnam. On Cambodia, the report states that:
There are reports that children ages 5 to 17 produce sugarcane in Cambodia. Child labor in the sugarcane sector occurs on both commercial plantations and smallholder farms. Children from families that have lost land through concessions to sugar companies are particularly vulnerable to exploitative labor on plantations. According to international organizations, NGOs, and media reports, child labor in the Cambodian sugarcane sector is a widespread concern, with numerous incidents reported across the country, including reports of hundreds of children cutting cane on plantations in the Koh Kong province.
Meanwhile, for Vietnam, it states that:
There is evidence that children ages 5 to 17 grow sugarcane in Vietnam. The results of the Government of Vietnam’s National Child Labor Survey 2012, published in 2014, show that an estimated 28,303 child laborers are involved in growing sugarcane. Approximately 32.6 percent, or 9,227 of these child laborers are under 15 years old, which is the minimum age for employment in Vietnam. Of the estimated 28,303 child laborers who grow sugarcane, 3.9 percent are 5-11 years old, 28.7 percent are 12-14 years old, and 67.4 percent are 15-17 years old.
This makes sugarcane one of the worst offending sectors in terms of abiding by core labour standards. The US Department of Labor believes 17 countries have sugarcane sectors which use child labour, making it the fourth worst sector overall (after gold, bricks and cotton). It does not fare much better in respect to forced labour. Here five countries are listed as using forced labour in their sugarcane sectors, making it the fifth worst overall (after cotton, garments, bricks and cattle). The fact that fewer countries are recorded is not necessarily good news. The report notes that “while progress on child labor research has been encouraging, to date only four countries have conducted national surveys on forced labor”.
The list is mainly about raising awareness of ‘unfree’ labour and naming and shaming countries where it is believed to take place. The report encourages governments and industries with goods on the list to engage with the Department of Labor to develop eradication plans, for downstream companies in supply-chains to improve their social compliance systems, and for civil society groups and consumers to scrutinise how products are made. More aggressively, the 2016 the Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act opens the door for the US to ban importation of goods listed, although such sanctions tend only to be used sparingly.