Protecting Children by Enforcing Trade Laws

Sen. Bill Bradley, author of the Opinion page article "Why is the US Ignoring the World's Children?," Feb. 4, has been around long enough to know that one more United Nations declaration, more or less, isn't going to protect anybody. Of more immediate concern to him - and more direct benefit to those he seeks to protect - should be the enforcement of a United States trade law aimed at protecting workers in developing countries, already a part of our trade laws for seven years.

There is little doubt that below-subsistence wages in Bangladesh, Indonesia, Thailand, and elsewhere force parents to take children out of school at ages that Senator Bradley rightly decries.

The law to which I refer seeks to punish autocrats for trampling workers' most basic rights, by taking away access to the US market on favorable terms. My organization receives reports of Asian workers' valiant attempts to build a better life for themselves and their children. Sadly, these efforts often lead to their dismissal, or worse.

The AFL-CIO has cited the countries named above numerous times over the past five years. The cases are well-documented but totally ignored by the US Trade Representative's office - charged with enforcing the worker-rights provisions of our trade law. A man of Senator Bradley's stature should be able to make an issue of the fact that Congress's will is being ignored by the Bush administration. Perhaps if the rest of the world sees the US observing its own laws, there might be a better chance for UN declar ations to get some respect. Charles D. Gray, Washington, Executive Director, Asian-American Free Labor Institute

Letters are welcome. Only a selection can be published, subject to condensation, and none acknowledged. Please address them to "Readers Write," One Norway St., Boston, MA 02115.

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