2021 is the International Year for the Elimination of Child Labour

152 million children are still subject to child labour today. Children should be in school, not at work. No child should be deprived of a childhood, safety, health or education. Child labour has no place in our society, and companies have a duty to stop child labour. It is time to accelerate the pace of progress and for business to take practical actions to help eliminate child labour for good.

Ending child labour and all forms of forced and compulsory labour is integral to the Ten Principles of the UN Global Compact. Our participating companies are committed to stopping these abuses, however, most companies have not yet moved beyond policy commitments to take concrete actions to end child labour and forced labour. A wide gap between business aspiration and business action persists. In response to this, the UN Global Compact is prioritizing this topic, aligned with the International Year for the Elimination of Child Labour, and calling on its business participants to submit their 2021 Action Pledge by 15 May.

The UN Global Compact 2021 Action Pledge on eliminating child labour reflects our commitment to work with our participants and engage actively with all relevant stakeholders to step up efforts to help end the scourge of child labour and forced labour. We wish to inspire companies by sharing good practices and mobilizing them to translate business aspirations into business actions. 

Central to this is our call to companies to step up their due diligence on human rights and to identify, prevent, mitigate and account for all adverse human rights impacts in their operations and value chains, which will help tackle child labour and forced labour. Making a real impact will require adopting a holistic approach and collaborating with all stakeholders. Your company can make a difference by taking action to end child labour for good. 

Pledge to end child labour

What pledges can business take?

Companies are sometimes indirectly involved in child labour — without even knowing it. The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs), the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises and the Tripartite Declaration of Principles concerning Multinational Enterprises and Social Policy (MNE Declaration) are internationally agreed guidelines that can help businesses eliminate child labour. According to these guidelines, companies should carry out due diligence in their supply chains. 

Companies of all sizes and from all sectors can take specific actions that contribute to ending child labour in their operations and supply chains. Pledges should aim at being achieved by the end of 2021. Supporting educational and apprenticeship programmes for the next generation and joining forces with other companies to ensure sustainable progress is made will be crucial to achieving impact at scale. Examples of possible pledges include:

  • Establish management procedures for introducing child labour due diligence in business operations
  • Develop guidance on due diligence, remediation and monitoring, using best practice from a multi-stakeholder approach
  • Comply with industry codes, local law or international standards — whichever provides the higher protection for children
  • Establish an apprenticeship programme to reduce the rate of hazardous child labour in the 15–17 age group by offering a decent work alternative
  • Join a multi-stakeholder initiative such as the UN Global Compact Decent Work in Global Supply Chains Action Platform and/or an “International Framework Agreement” with one of the sectoral global unions

Updates and Events
  • DEADLINE EXTENDED: Submit your 2021 Action Pledge by 15 May
  • For further guidance on making your 2021 Action Pledge, access the new Child Labour Practical Guide.
  • 31 March: Global Compact Network UK is hosting a Business & Human Rights Summit with a special session on ending child labour in global supply chains on 31 March from 11:45 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. BST. Register here
  • 6 May: War Child/Alliance 8.7 webinar on "Ending the Recruitment and Use of Child Soldiers by 2025." (Registration link to come)
  • 25 May: Alliance 8.7/Work: No Child's Business webinar on "The Role of Local Businesses in Ending Child Labour." (Registration link to come)
  • 10–16 June: World Day Against Child Labour 2021 will be celebrated over 7 Days of Action including the launch of the new ILO/UNICEF Global Estimates on Child Labour. 
  • 16 June: The UN Global Compact Leaders Summit 2021 will feature a high-level session on global leadership to end child labour. Learn more and register here.

Why should my company tackle child labour?

  • Worldwide, 218 million children between 5 and 17 years are in employment. Among them, 152 million are victims of child labour (88 million are boys and 64 million are girls), almost half of them, 73 million, work in hazardous child labour.
  • Ending child labour, forced labour and human trafficking will not be possible without addressing these human rights violations in global supply chains. The estimated share of total child labour linked to production in global supply chains varies across regions: 12% in Sub-Saharan Africa, 22% in Latin America and the Caribbean, 9% in Northern Africa and Western Asia, 26% in Eastern and South-Eastern Asia, and 12% in Central and Southern Asia.
  • Millions more children risk being pushed into child labour as a result of the COVID-19 crisis, which could lead to the first rise in child labour after 20 years of progress, according to a new brief from the International Labour Organization (ILO) and UNICEF. Child labour is very much related to poverty — in fact, the ILO and UNICEF report that a 1 percentage point rise in poverty leads to at least a 0.7 percentage point increase in child labour. Combating child labour helps to create more jobs and better wages for adults and thus also helps to alleviate poverty.
  • Almost half of the instances of child labour (72.1 million) is to be found in Africa; 62.1 million in Asia and the Pacific; 10.7 million in the Americas; 1.2 million in the Arab States and 5.5 million in Europe and Central Asia.
  • In terms of prevalence, 1 in 5 children in Africa (19.6%) are in child labour, 2.9% in the Arab States (1 in 35 children); 4.1% in Europe and Central Asia (1 in 25); 5.3% in the Americas (1 in 19) and 7.4% in Asia and the Pacific region (1 in 14).
  • Almost half of all 152 million children victims of child labour are aged 5 to 11 years; 42 million (28%) are 12 to 14 years old; and 37 million (24%) are 15 to 17 years old.
  • Hazardous child labour is most prevalent among children 15 to 17 years old. Nevertheless, up to a fourth of all hazardous child labour (19 million) is done by children less than 12 years old.
  • 58% of all children in child labour and 62% of all children in hazardous work are boys. Boys appear to face a greater risk of child labour than girls, but this may also be a reflection of an under-reporting of girls’ work, particularly in domestic child labour.
  • Child labour is concentrated primarily in agriculture (71%), which includes fishing, forestry, livestock herding and aquaculture, and comprises both subsistence and commercial farming; 17% in services; and 12% in the industrial sector, including mining.


Griet Cattaert
Head of Labour Rights

Mari-lou Dupont
Senior Manager, Decent Work and Social Sustainability

Colleen Connors
Senior Manager, Human Rights and Decent Work

What else can you do

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