With global child labour estimates on the rise again, companies face increasing pressure to tackle child labour risks and impacts.
A global consensus on a persistent problem
At the beginning of 2020, 160 million children worldwide - almost one in ten - were in child labour. The latest global estimates by UNICEF and ILO show that the challenge of child labour persists: it has risen for the first time in two decades and is expected to further increase in the context of COVID-19. As the pandemic leads to school closures, rising poverty and shrinking national budgets, millions of additional children are at risk of being pushed into child labour in the coming months and years. Companies taking a proactive approach to responsible business conduct will be crucial to prevent this.
While the need to tackle some global problems is subject to controversial disagreements, the need to fight child labour is clear: In August 2020, International Labour Organisation (ILO) Convention No.182 on the Worst Forms of Child Labour has become the first ILO convention ever to achieve universal ratification. This represents a rare global consensus of all 187 ILO member States, who have committed to protect children from the worst forms of child labour, including slavery, prostitution and trafficking.
Need for renewed business action to eliminate child labour
The gap between business aspiration and business action on ending child labour motivated the UN Global Compact (UNGC) to make the issue a priority. In 2021, the International Year for the Elimination of Child Labour, the UNGC is calling on its over 12,000 signatory companies to participate in an Action Pledge to step up their due diligence on human rights and take collective action on eliminating child labour.
Every company, no matter in which industry and however large or small, can be part of the solution. A large variety of different tools and guidance are available to support businesses taking the most effective approach. At focusright, we recently published a Q&A for Companies looking to get started with identifying and addressing their child labour risks.
To further support Swiss companies getting ready to address child labour, the UN Global Compact Network Switzerland & Liechtenstein, together with SECO, UNICEF and focusright, are organizing a webinar on “understanding child labour risks in supply chains of Swiss enterprises” on October 26th 2021. Join us to explore how child labour is relevant for your company and what you can do about it.
Towards mandatory due diligence for child labour
As lawmakers gain awareness that systematic due diligence is needed to end child labour, new legislation on mandatory human rights due diligence makes explicit reference to the issue. This includes the Swiss Counter-Proposal to the Responsible Business Initiative, which requires companies to put a management system in place to address child labour risks and impacts. The German Supply Chain Act also lists the international child labour conventions among the relevant standards covered by the law.
As a consequence, companies will be more and more legally required to conduct due diligence for child labour in their own operations and value chain. Even businesses not directly covered by new legislation will face increasing pressure to tackle child labour risks, as business partners and B2B customers pass on duties along the value chain.
Author: Regula Meng is a business & human rights consultant at focusright - a Zürich-based consultancy that supports companies from various sectors to strengthen their management systems to identify and address their human rights risks – both in their operations and extended value chains.