Speaking at a conference in the Netherlands in 2020, the ILO (International Labour Organisation) Director-General Guy Ryder said “Today, 152 million children are still in child labour. The need to accelerate progress is obvious. The UN resolution declaring 2021 as the International Year for the Elimination of Child Labour is a tremendous opportunity to keep the momentum, and to accelerate action towards the achievement of zero child labour, in all its forms, by 2025.” But how can businesses go about eliminating child labour?
What is Child Labour?
Child labour is regularly defined as work that deprives children of their childhood, their potential and their dignity, and that is harmful to physical and mental development. This can be work that is mentally, physically, socially or morally dangerous and harmful to children; and/or interferes with their schooling.
What Needs to Be Done?
A 2019 ILO report stated that companies should implement human and labour rights with
due diligence approaches that cover the full supply chain, including raw material extraction, and that help address risk factors and root causes.
It read that “international instruments, principally the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, the ILO Tripartite Declaration of Principles concerning Multinational Enterprises and Social Policy, and the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, provide a comprehensive framework for due diligence and for company-union, tripartite and multi-stakeholder collaboration to address child labour, forced labour and human trafficking in global supply chains.
“In line with the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and the OECD Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Business Conduct, due diligence entails a full supply chain approach; includes processes that are designed to be preventive; is risk based, meaning that the actions companies take are commensurate with and prioritised in accordance with the severity of the impact and are part of an enterprise’s risk management and decision-making system, so that the company can learn from what has worked and what has not worked to effectively prevent, mitigate and remediate child labour, forced labour and human trafficking; and adopts management systems and business practises that place human rights at their core. Due diligence also entails ensuring meaningful dialogue with affected stakeholders, including workers and their unions and communities, and continuous stakeholder engagement and social dialogue.”
In short, businesses must be made liable for their supply chain and any abuses and child labour that occurs within it.
To resolve the issue of child labour, businesses must first identify where this issue occurs. Gaining complete visibility throughout the supply chain is vital if companies are to identify high risk areas and spot potential issues. By increasing visibility within supply chains, companies can engage with their suppliers in a much more focused manner, allowing critical issues like child labour to be dealt with more efficiently.
Once an occurrence of child labour has been identified, the business then needs to decide how to deal with this issue. Knee-jerk reactions such as immediately severing ties with companies should be avoided and any action taken should in no way be detrimental to the child.
A collaborative approach to the problem is often key, with brands and their suppliers working together to investigate the problem, analyse the causes and identify a solution that is beneficial to all parties – for example this could involve funding the child’s education and compensating the family for loss of income.
Building the knowledge and capacity of suppliers is also a vital step, enabling responsibility to be shared throughout the supply chain with everyone working towards the same goal.
Prevention is of course better than cure. Putting in place controls to existing business processes and ensuring that policies and procedures are not only in place, but are also communicated to the rest of the business are key to the success of responsible sourcing.
Some of the controls that can be very effective in eliminating child labour are simply cross-checking ID cards with other documents and ensuring that the department responsible for hiring is fully aware of policies relating to child labour.
Carmel Giblin, general manager at Sedex, says that “It is easier for suppliers if companies adopt common approaches to monitoring and improving labour standards in the supply chain. There are tools that can promote greater transparency of audit methodology and offer suppliers the opportunity to complete one audit that can be used to meet the needs of multiple customers. This helps reduce the need for multiple audits, allowing both parties to concentrate on making improvements.”
Eliminating child labour and improving conditions within our supply chains must be a collaborative process with all stakeholders taking on responsibility. Companies are increasingly aware of their role and their ability to influence change for the better, but everyone has their part to play including governments, NGOs and consumers. The statistics show us that there is a long way to go, but by increasing transparency, taking a collaborative approach and building supplier understanding it is possible that organisations can take positive steps towards eliminating child labour.