Reducing Child Labor & Forced Labor: Best Practices for Responsible Businesses

By Eric Biel, Acting Associate Deputy Undersecretary, Bureau of International Labor Affairs, U.S. Department of Labor

According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), an estimated 215 million children toil in child labor around the world, and another 21 million people are trapped in forced labor.

Today’s businesses have a critical role to play in reducing this problem, in partnership with governments and civil society groups. It’s the right thing to do, but it is also good business since today’s consumers expect more from a company than just products. They expect company responsibility for human rights issues in their operations and supply chains.

Taking steps to reduce the chances that your products—and the raw materials they start from—are made by child or forced labor is a key component of meeting this responsibility. But many businesses don’t know how to go about addressing these issues. It is for that reason that the Bureau of International Labor Affairs (ILAB), an agency within the U.S. Department of Labor, hosted a live webcast on April 11 on reducing child labor and forced labor in supply chains.

Our event featured an interactive panel discussion highlighting how corporate leaders are addressing child and forced labor in their supply chains, as well as free tools that companies can use to identify and combat these problems. The panel was moderated by Dr. Marsha Dickson, Professor and Chairperson of the Department of Fashion and Apparel Studies at the University of Delaware, who is internationally known for her research and teaching on social responsibility in the apparel industry. I was joined on the panel by Meg Roggensack, Senior Advisor for Business and Human Rights at Human Rights First; Jeff Morgan, Director of Global Programs at Mars, Inc., one of the world’s leading food manufacturers; and Bob Mitchell, Global Manager of Supply Chain Social and Environmental Responsibility at the technology leader, Hewlett-Packard Company.

We had a practical and insightful panel discussion offering viewers a basic understanding of child labor and forced labor, and why businesses should care about these issues. Mr. Morgan shared his company’s experiences combating child labor in the cocoa industry, while Mr. Mitchell addressed best practices gleaned from HP’s experiences fighting forced labor. But most importantly, the session highighted free tools that can help businesses identify and address potential incidences of child and forced labor in their own supply chains.

One of those tools is ILAB’s own Reducing Child Labor and Forced Labor Toolkit, a free, easy-to-use, online guide that can assist in identifying and addressing potential incidences of child and forced labor through effective social compliance systems. Part of a company’s broader social responsibility efforts, a social compliance system is an integrated set of policies and practices intended to encourage supplier adherence to standards on certain key issues—including child labor and forced labor. Social compliance systems play an important role in demonstrating a company’s commitment to the workers, families and communities where its products are produced.

While approaches vary somewhat from industry to industry, a good social compliance system includes certain key components, functioning in an integrated way. These include engaging stakeholders and partners; assessing risks and impacts; developing a code of conduct; communicating and training across the supply chain; monitoring compliance; remediating violations; verifying results; and publicly reporting on performance.

The Reducing Child Labor and Forced Labor Toolkit guides users through these components and is particularly useful for companies that do not have a social compliance system in place, as well as those whose existing systems may need strengthening relative to child labor and forced labor. It can be accessed at dol.gov/ChildLaborBusinessToolkit.

ILAB encourages anyone who cares about these issues to access the Toolkit and view the video recording of the webcast (available here).

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2 Responses

  1. I think we first need to define what we mean when we say child labour as different cultural practices affect this, is it still child labour if the child is willing or the bread winner of the familiy and still going to school. What we may call child labour in one place could turn out to be part time job in another part of the world

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