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.

Read more

10 Facts About the Latest Research on Child Labor in West African Cocoa Growing Areas from Tulane University:

[On July 30, 2015, Tulane University researchers released their latest study — “Survey Research on Child Labor in West African Cocoa Growing Areas”– we present highligths here written and compiled by Mary Donovan, contributing writer to the CLC.]

  1. Child labor in cocoa production in West Africa is increasing. The total numbers of children in cocoa production, child labor in cocoa production, and hazardous work by children in cocoa production in West Africa all increased from 2009/10 to 2013/14. In 2013/14 there were 2,260,407 children working in cocoa production in West Africa. 1,303,009 of those children work in Cote d’Ivoire and 957,398 work in Ghana.
  1. A plan to eliminate child labor in the industry exists. Fifteen years ago, representatives of the international cocoa industry signed the Harkin-Engel Protocol “to eliminate the worst forms of child labor in the cocoa sectors of Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire.” The Protocol provides a framework for accountability and outlines action steps. The Ministers of Labor from Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire signed a Declaration of Joint Action to support the implementation of the Protocol in 2010. In spite of this initiative, child labor in cocoa production in West Africa has increased.
  1. Cote d’Ivoire experienced an especially large growth. The numbers of children working in cocoa production increased by 59%, the number of children doing child labor in cocoa production increased by 48%, and the number of children doing hazardous work in cocoa production grew by 46%. Cote d’Ivoire is the world’s largest cocoa producer.
  1. The number of children working in cocoa production fell slightly in Ghana.
Read the rest

Buried Childhoods — Child Labour in Mining and Quarrying

 

Jestoni* quit school at age 14 in order to take part in small-scale mining as a means to help support his family. They had abandoned farming for mining because of frequent flooding in their region of the Philippines. Jestoni’s mother worried about his safety as he dug in mineshafts for gold and carried heavy sacks of rock for eight to 12 hours per day.

According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), more than half (85 million) of the world’s 168 million child labourers perform hazardous work. Jestoni was one of the one million who work in mining.

The United States Department of Labor’s 2014 List of Goods Produced by Child Labor and Forced Labor indicates that child labour and forced labour is used to produce 29 products in the mining and quarrying sector. The top products in this sector, based on the number of countries using child labour in the production, include gold (18 countries[1]), coal (seven countries), and diamonds (six countries), but numerous other minerals, gems, and stones are also mined and quarried with the labour of children.

According to the ILOalmost all child miners work in artisanal, small-scale mining (ASM), beginning to help out as young as 4 and 5 years of age and working full time by the time they reach adolescence.[2] Artisanal mining is a low-technology industry where miners use their hands and rudimentary tools to extract minerals and raw materials,[3] with little protection from the inherent hazards of the work.… Read the rest

2014 World Day Against Child Labor Speech by Tom Harkin on the Senate Floor

Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) delivered this speech on the Senate floor on  – June 12, 2014:

Mr. President, today, June 12, 2014, is the day set aside by the International Labor Organization to bring attention to the tragic predicament of millions of children across the globe who continue to be trapped in forced and abusive labor, often in extremely hazardous conditions.

So today is the World Day Against Child Labor. It is a day set aside every year globally for people to take a look at what is happening to kids around the globe who are forced into very abusive and exploitative labor conditions.

I think we should obviously think about these children more than just one day a year. We should think about them every day.

In my travels I have seen the scourge of forced and abusive child labor firsthand. Previously on the floor–going back for almost 20 years–I have spoken about how shocked I was to see the deplorable conditions under which some of these kids are forced to work. I have witnessed this personally in places from South Asia to Latin America, to Africa.

These pictures I have in the Chamber are, as a matter of fact, pictures I took myself. This picture was taken in a rug-making place in Kathmandu, Nepal. We were told there were no children being forced into this kind of labor, but under the cover of darkness, on a Sunday night–it was probably after about 8 o’clock in the evening–we were able to make entry into one of these back-alley places, and this is what we came across: young people, girls and boys, some as young as 8 years of age, working at these looms. I remind you, this is at 8 p.m. on a Sunday night. They lived in barracks. They were housed, kind of stacked in barracks, so they could not leave, they could not go anywhere, they could not see their families.

Here is another picture of some older girls. These are young teenage girls working at the same place. I did not take that picture because this is me in the picture. This picture was taken by Rosemary Gutierrez, my staff person.

So I witnessed this firsthand. Even though we were told no such thing existed, we found it did exist.

Read more