Childhood should be a time for learning and growth, with a child’s physical and emotional needs met by the adults around them. For many children, helping in a family business or earning pocket money after school is considered a key element of learning and growth, providing them with skills, responsibility and money. But there is a line between this type of work and child labour, which is defined by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) as “work that deprives children of their childhood, their potential and their dignity, and that is harmful to physical and mental development.” Forced labour, human trafficking, prostitution and activities that directly harm a child’s physical, moral and/or mental wellness are considered the “Worst Forms of Child Labour” by the ILO.
According to the ILO, in 2016 there were 152 million children – or almost one in ten globally – who were subjected to child labour. Roughly half of those children were 5-11 years old, and approximately 70% worked in the agricultural sector. According to the US Department of Labour Bureau of International Labour Affairs, child labour exists in the supply chains of 148 goods, ranging from seafood to tin to footwear to bricks to carpets. Africa and the Asia-Pacific regions are hotspots, hosting nine out of every 10 child laborers. Conflict and natural disasters heighten the risk of child labour, as does poverty.
Sustainability standards, certifications and related supply chain tools that work in sectors that are prone to child labour such as small-scale farming and sewn apparel (the latter often done by home workers rather than factory workers) work in many ways to increase awareness of and gradually eliminate child labour. Such activities range from clearly defining what constitutes child labour and what doesn’t, monitoring the adherence to that definition and conducting family and community awareness programmes. Such programmes teach parents and community members about the importance of school attendance and the detrimental effects that being tired can have on a child’s ability to learn. Child labour is the product of a variety of social and economic forces, most supply chain responsibility tools encourage the integration of child labour policies into broader social development policies and use more of an ‘assess and address’ concept in approaches, instead of treating the issue as an isolated issue to be stamped out one intervention at a time.
Some resources that examine the impact of supply chain related tools on child rights are as follows:
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