According to official statistics from the Ministry of Education in El Salvador, child labor in the sugarcane industry dropped by 70 percent between 2003 and 2008. Five years ago, Human Rights Watch investigated the use of child labor on El Salvador’s sugarcane plantations and found that thousands of children were working in extremely hazardous conditions.
Nearly every child interviewed by Human Rights Watch had suffered machete gashes on their arms or legs while cutting cane. Our report exposed that the Coca-Cola company and other businesses were knowingly purchasing the product of child labor.
The International Labour Organization estimated that between 5,000 and 30,000 children under age 18 were working on the plantations, making up nearly one-third of all sugarcane workers. In addition to enduring unsafe working conditions and working long hours, children engaged in sugarcane work often missed weeks or months of school during the sugarcane harvest, with one out of every five children working in sugarcane out of school.
In response to Human Rights Watch’s report, the Ministry of Labor in El Salvador directed sugar plantations to remove child workers from the sugarcane harvest. While the 2008 numbers are encouraging, Human Rights Watch has pressed the Ministry of Labor to do more to ensure that children are reintegrated into schools.