The U.S. government estimates that 4 in 10 children between the ages of 10 and 14 work in the DRC. Agriculture, fishing, mining, begging and prostitution are just some of the areas that children can be found working in.

Eradicating Child Labor in Supply Chains Requires Binding, Enforceable Standards

[This piece by CLC member Sonia Mistry of the  Solidarity Center was first published on June 10th, 2016 in Thomas Reuters Foundation News.]

Sonia-Mistry-headshot-Clearer

He was completely covered in orange dust, from his hair to his toes. Maybe 7 or 8 years old, this little boy worked in an informal, or unregulated, mine in the southeastern province of the Democratic Republic of Congo. He was one of many children the Solidarity Center sought to remove from hazardous child labor and enroll in school.

Did he extract the minerals that ended up in my electronics? I’ll never know, and chances are that the company that made my phone doesn’t, either.

June 12 is World Day Against Child Labor, and this year’s theme, “End child labor in supply chains: It’s everyone’s business,” is relevant not simply because consumers are increasingly concerned about ethical purchasing but also because 168 million children around the world remain trapped in child labor.

The emphasis on supply chains provides an opportunity for companies to highlight their codes of conduct and efforts to monitor how their products are made. Consumers do not want to buy products made by children or exploited workers, and more businesses want to avoid the stain on their reputations. Company codes of conduct prohibit child labor and lay out other standards that businesses expect their suppliers to meet. But what happens when these standards are violated? Maybe a business cuts its ties with offending suppliers. Maybe nothing. And that is the point. Codes of conduct are voluntary, with little to no enforceability. External audits happen only periodically and cannot verify the absence of child labor or other abuses after auditors leave.

Eradicating child labor is not charity or good public relations. Child labor is a violation of human rights. It is a symptom of the confluence of other entrenched issues, like poverty, inequality, a lack of decent work for adults, poor governance and the absence of adequate social protections or policies that reduce vulnerability to risks like unemployment or illness. Children work because of these issues, and their exploitation perpetuates the cycle.

The only truly sustainable and meaningful alternatives to voluntary codes of conduct are binding and enforceable standards that employers and governments must abide by and which uphold the labor standards enshrined in the International Labor Organization’s (ILO) conventions, like the prohibition on child labor and the right of workers to form or join unions. Just this week, representatives of governments, businesses and workers gathered at an ILO meeting to discuss what will hopefully result in a new convention on supply chain accountability.

Unions are key partners in eradicating child labor through the promotion of decent work for adults and advocacy for improved government policies. Workers are the best workplace monitors, capable of identifying violations, including child and forced labor. Through collective bargaining, unions have engaged employers to address many of the root causes of child labor, including inadequate access to education, low wages and excessively high production quotas.

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Human Rights Watch’s Jo Becker: The U.S. Can Do More to Keep Children Off the Battlefield

[This blog originally appeared on the Huffington Post on 10/04/2012]

President Barack Obama announced on Friday that, for the second year in a row, it was withholding portions of U.S. military assistance from the Democratic Republic of Congo because of its continued use of child soldiers. The U.S. also said it wouldn’t train a Congolese light infantry battalion until Congo signed an action plan with the United Nations to end its use of child soldiers. U.S. officials have repeatedly urged the Congolese government to address the issue.

The pressure seems to be working. After seven years of foot-dragging, today Congo finally signed the U.N. plan, which will require Congo to end child recruitment, demobilize children in its forces and allow U.N. verification visits to its barracks.

For years, Congo has ranked among the worst countries for child soldiers. At the height of the conflict there, the U.N. estimated that as many as 30,000 children were participating in the war. Today, hundreds each year are still recruited in eastern Congo, by both government and rebel forces. Children who have escaped or been released often fear they will be forced into service again.

The U.S. has withheld assistance from Congo under a landmark law, the Child Soldiers Prevention Act, which prohibits U.S. military assistance to governments using child soldiers. In contrast it has, often on national security grounds, allowed other governments using child soldiers to continue receiving such aid, without conditions. Three examples — Chad, South Sudan and Yemen — show how the U.S. has missed opportunities to protect children from military service.

In Chad, government and rebel forces recruited thousands of children in a proxy war with Sudan that ended in early 2010. With U.S. pressure, the Chadian government signed a U.N. action plan in June 2011 to end child recruitment and demobilize all children from its forces. Child recruitment significantly dropped, with no new cases recorded in 2011. In June, the U.S. took Chad off its list of countries subject to possible sanctions under the Child Soldiers Prevention Act, despite reports that children remained in Chad’s forces.

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President Issues Child Soldier Waivers

The White House

Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release
September 28, 2012

Presidential Memorandum — Presidential Determination with respect to the Child Soldiers Prevention Act of 2008

MEMORANDUM FOR THE SECRETARY OF STATE

SUBJECT: Determination with Respect to the Child Soldiers Prevention Act of 2008

Pursuant to section 404 of the Child Soldiers Prevention Act of 2008 (CSPA) (title IV, Public Law 110-457), I hereby determine that it is in the national interest of the United States to waive the application of the prohibition in section 404(a) of the CSPA with respect to Libya, South Sudan, and Yemen; and further determine that it is in the national interest of the United States to waive in part the application of the prohibition in section 404(a) of the CSPA with respect to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, to allow for continued provision of International Military Education and Training funds and nonlethal Excess Defense Articles, and the issuance of licenses for direct commercial sales of U.S. origin defense articles; and I hereby waive such provisions accordingly.

You are authorized and directed to submit this determination to the Congress, along with the accompanying Memorandum of Justification, and to publish the determination in the Federal Register.

BARACK OBAMA… Read the rest

SEC Adopts Reporting Rule to Help with Human Rights Issues Concerning Conflict Minerals

The primary mission of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is to protect investors from unfair or unscrupulous practices. Last week, however, the SEC did something remarkable: It agreed to adopt a rule with the goal of diminishing the human rights consequences of business practices.

The SEC voted by a narrow 3-2 margin to require companies that use so-called “conflict minerals”—metals like gold, tantalum, tin, and tungsten which end up in a wide array of products like cell phones, computers and other electronic devices—to file reports about the use of minerals that have been fueling violent conflict and abetting widespread social abuses like the use of child soldiers. The rules were mandated under section 1502 of the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill and targeted towards minerals extracted in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and neighboring countries.

Although two commissioners debated whether the SEC’s core mission of protecting investors should be expanded in this way, they agreed that conflict in the DRC and neighboring countries is a pressing problem and that warring groups are using profits from mineral extraction to engage in armed conflict and a wide variety of human rights abuses. Commissioners Troy Paredes and Daniel Gallagher voted against adopting the rule, arguing that there was no clear evidence that the reporting requirement would help solve civil rights abuses and that the SEC had no jurisdiction to tackle human rights problems. Gallagher complained that the SEC’s proposed rule had no exemptions for small businesses and said the reporting requirements might be overly burdensome.

SEC chair Mary Schapiro joined commissioners Luis Aguilar and Elise Walter in voting for adopting the reporting rule. The three commissioners were quick to point out that the SEC was under a congressional mandate to implement the provisions and that the humanitarian crisis in sub-Saharan Africa is severe and required action.

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