Principle Five: Labour

Businesses should uphold the effective abolition of child labour.

What does it mean?

The term “child labour” should not be confused with “youth employment” or “student work.” Child labour is a form of exploitation that is a violation of a human right and it is recognized and defined by international instruments. It is the declared policy of the international community and of almost all Governments to abolish child labour. While the term "child" covers all girls and boys under 18 years of age, not all under-18s must be removed from work: the basic rules under international standards distinguish what constitutes acceptable or unacceptable work for children at different ages and stages of their development.

ILO conventions (Minimum Age Convention No. 138 and the Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention No. 182) provide the framework for national law to prescribe a minimum age for admission to employment or work that must not be less than the age for completing compulsory schooling, and in any case not less than 15 years. Lower ages are permitted for transitional periods – in countries where economic and educational facilities are less well-developed the minimum age for regular work generally is 14 years, and 12 years for “light work”. The minimum age for hazardous work is higher, at 18 years for all countries.

Minimum Age for Admission to Employment or Work

Type of Work Developed countries Developing countries
Light Work13 Years12 Years
Regular Work15 Years14 Years
Hazardous Work18 Years18 Years

ILO Convention No. 182 requires Governments to give priority to eliminating the worst forms of child labour undertaken by all children under the age of 18 years.

They are defined as:

  • All forms of slavery — including the trafficking of children, debt bondage, forced and compulsory labour, and the use of children in armed conflict;The use, procuring or offering of a child for prostitution, for the production of pornography or for pornographic purposes;
  • The use, procuring or offering of a child for illicit activities, in particular the production and trafficking of drugs; and
  • Work which is likely to harm the health, safety or morals of the child as a consequence of its nature or the circumstances under which it is carried out.

Convention 182 is explicitly complementary to Convention 138 and must not be used to justify other forms of child labour.

Why should companies care?

Association with child labour will likely damage a company's reputation. This is especially true in the case of transnational companies who have extensive supply and service chains, where the economic exploitation of children, even by a business partner, can damage a brand image and have strong repercussions on profit and stock value.

Child labour is damaging to a child’s physical, social, mental, psychological and spiritual development because it is work performed at too early an age. Child labour deprives children of their childhood and their dignity. They are deprived of an education and may be separated from their families. Children who do not complete their primary education are likely to remain illiterate and never acquire the skills needed to get a job and contribute to the development of a modern economy. Consequently, child labour results in under-skilled, unqualified workers and jeopardizes future improvements of skills in the workforce.

Children have the same human rights as adults. But by virtue of their age and the fact that they are still growing and gaining knowledge and experience, they have some distinct rights as children. These rights include protection from economic exploitation and work that may be dangerous to their health, safety or morals and that may hinder their development or impede their access to education. The complexity of the issue of child labour means that companies need to address the issue sensitively, and must not take action which may force working children into more exploitative forms of work. Nevertheless, as Principle 5 states, the goal of all companies should be the abolition of child labour within their sphere of influence.

What else can companies do?

Developing awareness and understanding of the causes and consequences of child labour is the first step that a company can take toward action against child labour. This means identifying the issues and determining whether or not child labour is a problem within the business. Companies sourcing in specific industry sectors with geographically distant supply chains need to be particularly vigilant. However, child labour also exists less visibly in developed, industrialized countries where it occurs, for
example, in some immigrant communities.

Discovering if child labour is being used can be difficult, for example in the case where documents or records are absent, and companies may consider using local non-governmental organizations, development organizations or UN agencies to assist in this process.

If an occurrence of child labour is identified, the children need to be removed from the workplace and provided with viable alternatives. These measures often include enrolling the children in schools and offering income-generating alternatives for the parents or above-working age members of the family. Companies need to be aware that, without support, children may be forced into worse circumstances such as prostitution, and that, in some instances where children are the sole providers of income, their immediate removal from work may exacerbate rather than relieve the hardship.

Here’s what companies can do:

In the workplace

  • Be aware of countries, regions, sectors, economic activities where there is a greater likelihood of child labour and respond accordingly with policies and procedures
  • Adhere to minimum age provisions of national labour laws and regulations and, where national law is insufficient, take account of international standards.
  • Use adequate and verifiable mechanisms for age verification in recruitment procedures
  • Avoid having a blanket policy against hiring children under 18, as it will exclude those above the legal age for employment from decent work opportunities
  • When children below the legal working age are found in the workplace, take measures to remove them from work
  • Help to seek viable alternatives and access to adequate services for the children and their families
  • Exercise influence on subcontractors, suppliers and other business affiliates to combat child labour
  • Develop and implement mechanisms to detect child labour
  • Where wages are not determined collectively or by minimum wage regulation, take measures to ensure that wages paid to adults take into account the needs of both them and their families

In the community of operation

  • Work in partnership with other companies, sectoral associations and employers’ organizations to develop an industry-wide approach to address the issue, and build bridges with trade unions, law enforcement authorities, labour inspectorates and others
  • Establish or participate in a task force or committee on child labour in your representative employers’ organization at the local, state or national level.
  • Support and help design educational/ vocational training, and counseling programmes for working children, and skills training for parents of working children
  • Encourage and assist in launching supplementary health and nutrition programmes for children removed from dangerous work, and provide medical care to cure children of occupational diseases and malnutrition

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