From the cocoa fields of West Africa to the cotton mills of South India, one in 11 children are laboring in the global economy today. Often forfeiting the chance to ever begin school, these children have the highest illiteracy rates in the world. Victims are five to 14 years of age, and more than half of them, 85 million, are in hazardous work that spans mining, fishing, manufacturing, and agriculture. Some of these children have been kidnapped or sold, with the International Labor Organization (ILO) further estimating 5.5 million of them as bonded and slave laborers. Slavery, human trafficking, prostitution, and activities that directly harm the physical, mental, and moral well-being of a child are considered “Worst Forms of Child Labor.”
GoodWeave’s certification Standard is created with input from a range of stakeholders, including workers, civil society and leading issue experts from around the world. Based on key international conventions, the Standard sets the minimum age of work at 14 or higher, depending on the national legal requirements. The Standard also prevents the employment of young workers, those between the ages of 15 and 18, from any work defined as hazardous. Child labor is intertwined with other forms of extreme exploitation, from less explicit human trafficking schemes such as Sumangali, common in India’s textile industry, to overt chattel slavery found on every continent of the globe. The U.S. Department of Labor’s 2016 List of Goods Produced with Child Labor or Forced Labor cites 139 sectors, only one of which does not involve child labor, pointing to the interconnectedness of all forms of labor abuse.
Child labor is illegal under numerous laws and conventions around the world, including the UK Modern Slavery Act and the California Transparency in Supply Chains Act. These legal frameworks combined with the UN Sustainable Development Goal 8.7 to End Child Labor by 2025 create a mandate to act.
Child labor not only impacts one generation, but every one that follows. In his 2012 report Child Labor & Educational Disadvantage–Breaking the Link, Building Opportunity, former UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown warned: “Because children who face restricted opportunities for education will receive lower wages as adults, child labor is one of the most powerful motors transmitting poverty across generations.”
Not all work performed by children is child labor. Household chores, contributing to a family business, or having an afterschool job can be beneficial and necessary. However, any work that compromises a child’s health, personal development, or schooling is considered child labor.
CHILD LABOR AND GLOBAL SUPPLY CHAINS
While corporate social auditing improves working conditions at factories, the worst exploitation often takes place outside of the factory where many layers of subcontracting turn child labor into an invisible crime.
Ending child labor is everyone’s business. Sometimes the sweat of children is literally woven into the products we buy every single day. Child labor taints global manufacturing supply chains across sectors–from carpets and garments to chocolate and tea.
Child labor in supply chains looks different depending on the sector:
- In the carpet industry where GoodWeave has worked for more than 20 years, “carpet kids” sit at looms for up to 14 hours per day, using sharp tools to weave carpets with no access to education. Some are trafficked to loom sheds far from home—often under threat of violence—to work off a family debt that can never be repaid on meager wages.
- Many embellished garments are produced by hand in individual homes. Girls are often compelled to sew with their mothers to meet ambitious quotas for extremely low piece rate compensation. School absenteeism among girls during busy production periods quickly results in poor academic performance and tragically high early dropout rates.
- Entire families toil on brick kilns across South Asia. Many are bonded to the kiln and forced to work to pay off a debt. Children as young as five years old begin contributing to the family’s production quota by carrying and stacking bricks. Some children are trafficked to manage donkeys and other livestock. With long working hours and few school facilities, children face nearly insurmountable barriers to getting an education.
SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT GOALS
The UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 8.7 (SDG) challenges the world to eradicate forced labor, modern slavery, and “by 2025 end child labour in all its forms.” Without addressing child labor in global supply chains, SDG 8.7 will fail to achieve its goal.
The 12 million child laborers working in manufacturing and other industrial sectors, as well as the millions working in export-oriented agriculture, demand that businesses, consumers, and governments unite to realize the promise of SDG 8.7.
CHILD LABOR QUICK FACTS
- 168 million children are trapped in child labor globally. According to the ILO:
- 85 million are in “hazardous work,” which poses immediate danger to a child’s health, safety and moral well-being.
- 21 million people are living in forced labor and more than 5 million are children.
- South Asia has the highest absolute number of child laborers (nearly 17 million), while Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest incidence (21 percent or one in five children).
- Nearly two-thirds of all child laborers (98 million) work in agriculture, while 54 million are found in the services sector and 12 million are found in industry
Child labor is a crime prosecutable under national and international laws. View a list of laws crafted to eliminate the practice of child labor and human trafficking.