U.S. financial muscle should be used to stop other countries from allowing sweatshops to employ children as young as 3 years old, lawmakers say.
"As with other human rights violations, we must make the elimination of child labor an important goal of United States foreign policy, including but not limited to our foreign aid policy," said Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J.The House International Relations panel that Smith chairs also heard this week from lawmakers who urged companies to label their products from countries with poor child labor records.
They said the labels would guarantee that no children or exploited labor were used in the product's manufacture.
The hearing followed recent stories about up to 200 million children, mostly in developing countries, working long hours for little pay in dangerous situations to produce goods cheaply for export.
Television celebrity Kathie Lee Gifford and her line of clothing sold by Wal-Mart are among several recent high-profile cases that have come under fire for using child labor.
Gifford severed her ties with the Honduran plant using children. And Wal-Mart ended its contract with the company that used a New York sweatshop.
Wendy Diaz, a 15-year-old girl who worked in the Honduran plant, told the subcommittee of 13-hour days in a broiling hot factory with abusive supervisors who sexually harassed the teenage girls.
"We as consumers are all complicit if we do not ask the right questions and demand satisfactory answers," said Rep. James Moran, D-Va. "We all have a greater responsibility than passing the buck and assigning blame."
Moran has introduced a bill that would require any country getting U.S. aid to certify that it has enacted and is enforcing child labor laws.