Global supply chains major user of child labour: UN report

Asian region has highest child labour in global supply chains

By DTE Staff
Published: Wednesday 13 November 2019

When we get our latest electronic gadget delivered at our doorstep, we hardly realise it could have been tainted with child labour. Similar with our food produce. Though a few label child labour use, most don’t.

In a globally integrated business, a product goes through multiple stages to be ready for consumption or usage. A recent report on global supply chains points out that they deploy child labour in almost all stages.

There were 152 million child labourers in the world. Up to 26 per cent of them were are deployed in global supply chains, the report found. These chains, in fact, resorted to human trafficking to source forced child labour.

The report, Ending child labour, forced labour and human trafficking in global supply chains, is the first to examine child labour in global supply chains. It was conducted by the International Labour Organization (ILO), Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), International Organization for Migration (IOM), and the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef).

The level of child labour in global supply chains differed region to region. Eastern and south-eastern Asia was foudn to the worst with 26 per cent of child labour in supply chains. Latin America and the Caribbean followed with 22 per cent. Elsewhere, the figures were 12 per cent for central and southern Asia and 9 per cent for northern Africa and western Asia.

“This report shows the urgent need for effective action to tackle the violations of core labour rights that are occurring in supply chains,” ILO Director-General Guy Ryder said.

Target 8.7 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) was to end child labour by 2030.

“These findings underscore the need for governments to scale up and strengthen efforts to ensure that businesses respect human rights in their operations and across supply chains,” OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurria said.

Child labour was more pronounced in domestic production processes than global supply chains, the study suggested. But there was no study. Big corporate houses usually claim to be free of child labour. 

Most of the child labour in supply chains is deployed in countries of origin, known as the ‘upstream reaches’ of a chain. This part acounted for 28-43 per cent of the total child labour engaged by the sector.

Take agriculture: “97 per cent of the estimated child labour contributing to the export of agricultural goods comes from children working in the agricultural sector itself,” according to the report. It means that the bulk of child labour was from countries that take up cropping and preliminary processing. 

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