In commemoration of World Day Against Child Labor on June 12th, UL’s Responsible Sourcing group conducted an interview with Joost Kooijmans, Senior Advisor – Child Labour Child Protection for UNICEF. Although, in the past 15 years, there has been a 30% decline in child labor, the Asia region still holds approximately 77 million of the global 168 million child laborers. The private sector along with government and the community must continue to play a vital role in the fight against child labor.
On a global level, would you agree that child labour incidences have been decreasing?
Since 2000, we have seen a 30% decline in child labour, which is welcome progress and shows us that child labour is a solvable problem. The decline can in part be explained by the progress made under the Millennium Development Goals towards poverty reduction and promoting universal primary education. Governments have also become much more serious in their efforts to fight child labour, and increasingly, companies have become more aware. Protection from child labour is today a very relevant business mandate.
Yet, there are still some 168 million children worldwide in child labour, and progress is too slow. At current rates, more than 100 million children will still be trapped in child labour by 2020. Regionally, sub-Saharan Africa has the highest prevalence rate for child labour at 27%, followed by Asia at 12%. But Asia accounts for the highest absolute numbers of child labourers—an estimated 77 million, almost half of all child labourers globally.
Which countries and or industries still have high rates of child labour or have recently been identified as countries with a high risk for child labour?
According to UNICEF data, there are about 58 countries across the world with a child labour prevalence of 10% or more. Child labour statistics can be consulted at: http://www.data.unicef.org/child-protection/child-labour.
What actions would you recommend companies adopt when doing business in high risk child labour countries / regions?
It is important to make sure that all operations are in compliance with both national child labour laws, as well as internationally agreed treaties on child labour (the Convention on the Rights of the Child and ILO child labour Conventions 138 and 182), so that no children under the minimum age are recruited or work in a facility. It is also important to have codes of conduct requiring that suppliers and other contractors in the supply chain comply with this rule. Companies should have a rigorous system to monitor compliance and take action when needed.
What would you recommend to remediate any instances of identified child labour for companies who engage in social auditing and identify instances of child labour within their supply chain?
Before an underage worker is removed from employment, make sure a remediation programme is available, such as assistance with access to education, transitional schooling or vocational training; and if possible replacing a child labourer with an adult family member to compensate for the family’s loss of income. Each incident requires an approach tailored to the child’s age, working conditions, home situation and education level, and the availability of schooling. Companies can cooperate with parents or caregivers, schools, local NGOs and child rights organizations and government agencies to find the best solution.
Can you share with us any leading/ best practice programs around combating child labour that you recommend companies become a part of or participate in?
First, companies are encouraged to learn about the Children’s Rights and Business Principles, developed by UNICEF, the United Nations Global Compact and Save the Children. The Principles provide a child rights lens to the global standard on the independent responsibility of all businesses to respect human rights, including protection from child labour. The Principles also describe how businesses can take the extra step and make a corporate commitment to more broadly support children’s rights. More information on http://www.unicef.org/csr/12.htm, where you can also find helpful tools developed for companies.
Second, UNICEF is rolling out a supply chain programme and a thematic private sector initiative on child labour, where companies can join UNICEF in implementing sustainable child protection solutions to attack the root causes of child labour. For more information, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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