A few weeks ago a request for internal documents from the chocolate giant Hershey’s Co moved forward, with a judge ruling that the company will have to share confidential information with its shareholders. The Louisiana Municipal Police Employees’ Retirement System brought legal action against the company in 2012, asserting that the company knowingly bought cocoa from areas plagued with child labor issues.
Even though Hershey’s is the company targeted in the lawsuit, human rights abuses like child labor are still rampant throughout the food supply chain. Although companies like Mars or Nestlé now publicly discuss child labor in their supply chains, these issues are unlikely to go away when these same companies rely upon cheap land and labor to operate.
Last week the UC Davis School of Law featured a full day conference “Confronting Child Labor in Global Agricultural Supply Chains.” The conference featured a parade of impressive experts from a wide range of stakeholders, including Mars Co, Bonsucro, the International Labor Organization and the U.S. Department of Labor. Each presented on the problem of child labor in the fields, and of need to create financial alternatives for rural youth, to educate communities about illegal practices, and to increase productivity in the fields.
But what was not discussed by speakers as a solution to child labor was to substantially raise the price farmers and workers are paid for their work.
Reflecting on the conference, speaker Professor Alfred Babo, an Associate Professor of Anthropology and Sociology at the University of Bouaké, commented. ”I think if you ask most farmers if they need a new school, they would tell you that they would rather be paid better. If they had the money in their own pockets, they could send their children to school, and they would not need their children to work on the farms.”
Article published with permission of the author, who is a member of the faculty at the University of San Francisco.
CLC Member Jo Becker of Human Rights Watch: Will the US Be the Last Country to Ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child?
As the children’s rights advocate for Human Rights Watch, one of the questions I’m asked most frequently is why the US has not ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Currently, only two other countries – South Sudan and Somalia – have yet to ratify the convention, the most widely ratified human rights treaty in history.
But the US is now in danger of becoming a club of one. Last Wednesday, South Sudan’s parliament voted to ratify the convention. The same day – the 24th anniversary of the convention – Somalia’s president pledged that his country would ratify it soon.
South Sudan and Somalia have some reasonable excuses for not having ratified the child rights convention more quickly. South Sudan gained independence only two years ago, and Somalia has struggled for more than two decades to establish a functioning government. The US has no such defense.
One of the biggest barriers to US ratification is an aggressive misinformation campaign by “parental rights” organizations, claiming that the convention will undermine American families. These groups have promoted ludicrous scenarios of what will happen if the US ratifies the convention, saying parents will be put in prison if they fail to vaccinate their child, that children will be forced to sing songs about the United Nations in school, and that children will have to begin mandatory sex education at the age of four. None of these claims are true.
In reality, the Convention on the Rights of the Child makes numerous references to the importance of the family. It outlines rights that virtually every American parent would want for their child – the right to education, to development, and to protection from exploitation and abuse. None of the predicted “nightmare” scenarios have come to pass in the 193 countries that have ratified the convention. Instead, the convention has helped governments assess and improve their laws and policies for children.
US ratification is complicated only by the continued practice in the United States of sentencing child offenders to life in prison with no possibility of parole. The US is the only country to impose this punishment, which the convention specifically prohibits. Until it ends such sentencing, which has been whittled away by the Supreme Court in recent years, the US could enter a reservation to the convention, as it has done when ratifying other human rights treaties.
It’s a shame that a campaign that is at best misguided has helped keep the US out of a treaty that has nearly universal acceptance. The White House and US Senate should give the convention another look before the US finds itself in a minority of one.
[Originally published November 26, 2013 at www.hrw.org]