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This Friday, 12 June 2020, EFFAT and allies throughout the global trade union movement mark World Day Against Child Labour.
The focus this year is on the impact on child labour of the coronavirus pandemic. According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), the resulting economic and labour market shocks are threatening to push millions of people into insecurity and poverty. Regrettably, several studies have indicated that this can then lead to a notable increase in child labour.
Child labour is a particular problem for the food and agriculture sectors worldwide. As EFFAT and our affiliates highlighted this time last year, as many as 2 million children in West Africa alone are exploited as part of the cocoa industry. Any increase in these numbers stemming from coronavirus would not only be a moral outrage and human tragedy, but further evidence of chocolate manufacturers having reneged on their 2010 commitment to eradicate child labour in their production by the end of the decade.
The EFFAT Cocoa Steering Committee continues to tackle the issue of child labour head on. In December 2019, EFFAT affiliates FGTB-ABVV Horval in Belgium and FNV in the Netherlands organised a workshop bringing together shop stewards from cocoa processing companies, fellow trade unions and workers’ representatives from Ghana, Ivory Coast, Brazil, Indonesia and Germany to discuss possible approaches to eliminating child labour and poor working conditions in cocoa production. This was followed in January 2020 by an introductory meeting with Caobisco (Chocolate, Biscuit and Confectionery of Europe) to discuss due diligence in the cocoa value chain.
This is not to single out the cocoa industry. Child labour is all too commonplace on coffee, tea, sugar cane, and fruit and vegetable farms and plantations, to name but a few. It is often coupled with degrading and brutally exploitative working conditions, and underpinned by violence.
As such, EFFAT continues to push strongly at European level for a comprehensive directive on due diligence and responsible business conduct which mandates agri-food companies to observe and respect human rights – including workers’ and trade union rights – (and environmental imperatives) throughout their business activities and relationships, covering both their global supply and subcontracting chains.
We believe it is time for a framework for due diligence that ensures companies and financial institutions that operate within the EU are held to account for any abuses and harm in their domestic and global operations. By extension, codifying in law the corporate duty to respect human rights and the environment ought to provide companies with more encouragement to self-check – that is, identify, mitigate and prevent any upstream abuses in their operations themselves at an earlier stage. Trade unions should play a central role in the definition and implementation of companies’ due diligence initiatives.
In this way, a directive obliging companies to carry out comprehensive supply-chain risk analyses would constitute an important step forward in protecting against child labour. We cannot let coronavirus rob even more children of their childhood. Now more than ever, we must protect children from child labour.
 
Useful further information:
ILO Special Report – COVID-19 and Child Labour: A Time of Crisis, A Time to Act.
Meant to (L)earn: a discussion about child labour in agriculture’, a talk produced by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), in collaboration with the International Partnership for Cooperation on Child Labour in Agriculture (IPCCLA).
IUF statement with links to IUF-EFFAT affiliate cocoa posters

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