Stigma around child labor - Child labor still occurs in almost all sectors

This article was written by Child Rights and Business at Save the Children to give a nuanced picture of child labor.



“June 12, was the International day against child labor. Child labor has long been and continues to be a controversial topic. A topic that companies usually know about but have difficulty or are unwilling to address.


Much has been achieved through global and local efforts over the years, but the reduction of children in child labor we have previously seen stalls off and the goal set in the global sustainability goals and Agenda 2030 that child labor should be gone 2025 seems to be impossible. Today, 152 million children are estimated to be trapped in child labor, of which 73 million are in the worst form of child labor that is directly harmful to their mental and physical health.


Child labor occurs in almost all sectors. Despite this, there is a tremendous stigma around child labor. In some countries, many people cannot even say the words "child labor" or work with an organisation dedicated to uprooting it in fear of being suspected of child labor - but we must. As in so many cases, talking about it and admitting that a problem exists, is the first step in resolving it. We all have a role to play, and we must see the problem of child labor as a problem we share.If you swore up and down that you would never use a product that involved child labor, you would never go on a carpet, drink a cup of coffee, wear a cotton shirt, drive a car, eat a banana or chocolate muffin ever again. A company that says there is no child labor in their supply chain simply hasn’t looked long enough.


A few days ago, the Washington Post published an article about the world's largest producers of cocoa, and about child labor in the industry. The article painted a gripping picture of child labor and its horrors. That said, we know that there are many different forms of child labor and that there is a need for nuanced discussions based on evidence-based knowledge, studies, and innovative working methods. Otherwise, it may turn in the wrong direction. In some countries, for example, schooling is only compulsory up to 14 years. Meanwhile, young people between 14-18 years old, 18 and under being children according to the Convention on the Rights of the Child can find it difficult to get a job because no one wants to –or is afraid to- hire them. This often leads to youths going underground and perhaps towards even more dangerous jobs in horrible conditions.


The work on child labor starts in the fight against poverty; not in keeping children and young people away from workplaces where, again, many children and young people run the risk of ending up in worse conditions. How do we turn this around and work with suppliers to help them address this problem, instead of punishing them because they work in a context where children and young people are looking for employment and income? Child labor will remain for a long time to come, and if we are honest with our ambition to eradicate child labor until 2025, we must fight poverty. We must understand and respond to the challenges faced by children, families - and suppliers. Otherwise, the negative cycle continues.


Child Rights and Business at Save the Children work with companies on children's needs and rights results in concrete and sustainable measures that go beyond philanthropy and ensure that children's rights are included perspective in the companies' long-term business model. In this way, companies can contribute to achieving the global sustainability goals.


Save the Children, the UN Global Compact and UNICEF jointly developed Children's Rights and Business Principles, (Children's Rights Principles for Business, CRBP, 2012). They constitute the first global framework that links children's needs and rights with sustainable business development, and highlights what companies can do in the workplace, the market and in society to respect and support children's rights.”


By Charlotta Sterky, CEO, Child Rights and Business, Save the Children