Today’s culture of fast fashion relies on ever-cheaper sources of labour to keep retailer costs low and profits high. In many developing countries, vulnerable children can often be used as cheap labour sources as they slip easily under the radar. They’re considered low-skilled employees with no voice and can be easy to manipulate, which makes them easy targets.
Child labour puts children at risk of physical and psychological damage. It compromises their education, restricts their basic rights, and limits their prospective opportunities – eventually leading to brutal inter-generational cycles of paucity and child labour. How prevalent is the use of child labour in global supply chains, and what laws and solutions are in place to protect these children?
The Current State of Child Labour in Supply Chains
Almost 160 million children were subjected to child labour at the beginning of 2020. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic further worsened the situation by putting 9 million more children at risk. This means almost 1 in every 10 children across the globe is experiencing child labour. Nearly 50% of these children work in dangerous conditions that directly risk their health and moral development.
According to the recent report by UNICEF/ILO, global progress to end child labour has slowed down for the first time in two decades, reversing the downward trend that witnessed child labour decline by 94 million between 2000 and 2016.
The report specifies that the link between child labour and global supply chains is often indirect. A substantial share of child labour in global supply chains occurs in the lower tiers, in activities such as raw material extraction and agriculture, which makes it challenging to have due diligence, visibility and traceability.
Some other key findings of this report are:
- Today, the number of children aged 5 to 17 years in hazardous work has increased by 6.5 million to 79 million since 2016.
- Around 30 million children living outside their birth country have an increased risk of being trafficked for sexual abuse and other work.
- The incidence of hazardous work in countries impacted by armed conflict is 50% higher than the worldwide average.
Child labour can be difficult to see, especially if you have a complex supply chain. Here are some of the ways you can identify child labour in your supply chain:
- Conduct regular audits to see whether the minimum working age set by the national legislation is respected in your company.
- Use adequate and verifiable mechanisms for age verification upon recruitment.
- Invest in vendor and supply chain due diligence to determine what measures are in place to avoid child labour and modern slavery.
- Determine whether the wage level for the adult employees is sufficient so that they can support their families without depending on children’s earnings.
The Fight Against Child Labour & Modern Slavery
Endeavours to combat child labour include initiatives undertaken by the ILO, government initiatives and corporate measures. Nearly two decades ago, the ILO implemented the Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention. To date, around 184 countries have ratified this convention that necessitates them to “eliminate the worst forms of child labour” and “provide the necessary and appropriate direct assistance” for removing children from child labour, their rehabilitation and social integration.
In 2015, the UN developed a set of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for 2030. Two of these goals, SDG 8.7 and SDG 16.2, address child labour in particular:
- SDG 8.7: Take immediate and effective measures to eradicate forced labour, end modern slavery and human trafficking and secure the prohibition and elimination of the worst forms of child labour, including recruitment and use of child soldiers, and by 2025 end child labour in all its forms.
- SDG 16.2: End abuse, exploitation, trafficking and all forms of violence and torture against children.
The legislation also plays a significant role in fighting child labour. Countries such as Canada, the UK, the US, Australia and others have or are considering implementing regulations to combat modern slavery, forced labour and child labour.
For example, the UK’s Modern Slavery Act 2015 is developed to fight modern slavery in the UK and consolidates past offences concerning slavery and trafficking.
Supply chain transparency is the only way to determine if child labour exists in supply chains. While nobody wants to discover child labour in their business, recognising child and other types of forced labour provides the opportunity to eradicate it and find more responsible and ethical alternatives.
Here are some measures businesses can take to move in the right direction:
- Incorporate contractual provisions and supply chain codes of conduct that prohibit the employment of children
- Hire human rights experts as auditors and investigators to conduct regular human rights audits
- Reduce complex supply chains that make transparency to issues challenging
- Use automated labour audit solutions to perform due diligence
ethiXbase helps organisations identify modern slavery and child labour in supply chains. Developed in collaboration with global law firm Norton Rose Fulbright, our Modern Slavery Questionnaire will help you identify, mitigate and manage modern slavery risk in your supply chain. Ready to take the next step? Get in touch today to help end modern slavery.