According to the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of International Labor Affairs, 168 million children work instead of going to school. It's everyone's business to ensure that the goods we produce and consume are not made at the expense of anyone's childhood.
Here are seven things companies can do to help fight child labor:
1. Engage consumers. The evidence is clear: the socially conscious consumer is a growing global phenomenon. In fact, a study found that two-thirds of consumers worldwide are willing to pay more for goods that are produced responsibly. Companies that can show consumers their goods were made without child labor can tap into this growing demand.
2. Support worker voice. Listening to workers is one of the most effective ways a company can monitor its supply chains. Workers and the unions that represent them can bring issues to a company's attention much more quickly than an outside auditor. By respecting freedom of association and collective bargaining rights, companies can help ensure that they are eliminating - and not enabling - abusive forms of labor in their supply chains.
3. Be transparent. Many companies have some form of social auditing in place, which includes auditing for child labor. However, most of them keep the results of these audits confidential. A growing number of consumers, shareholder groups and non-governmental organizations are making the case for public disclosure of audit reports. Even when these reports show violations of a company's code of conduct, disclosure can be a powerful demonstration of a company's commitment to making things right.
4. Practice due diligence. Risk and impact assessments help companies "see" their supply chains better. Where might they be contributing to or causing labor rights abuses? Where are the risks of such abuses occurring greatest? Answering these questions allows companies to immediately take steps to tackle existing problems. It also helps them prevent potential future violations. These assessments are integral to a responsible due diligence process. They are an essential tool for companies seeking sustainability in their supply chains.
5. Put in place meaningful grievance mechanisms. Grievance mechanisms allow workers to voice their concerns with their employers without fear of retaliation. Companies should ensure that safe, accessible channels are available to all workers to lodge complaints about any issue related to their code of conduct. Ideally, multiple channels should be available, such as through trade unions, through supervisors, directly through management, or directly to the company. Standard procedures also should be in place for handling and resolving complaints to protect workers from reprisal and to notify both workers and other affected stakeholders of the outcome of the grievance.
6. Provide children with alternatives to work. If a company identifies child labor in its supply chain, it has a responsibility to ensure the children's education and well-being. Besides removing children from work in hazardous or illegal conditions, companies can take other steps to provide children with alternatives to work that endangers their safety or jeopardizes their education. Companies can eliminate dangerous work from the child's job, help a child identify other safe income-earning opportunities, monitor the child's work activities and schedule, and link the child to educational and developmental opportunities provided by the government and non-governmental organizations.
7. Link with other supplier incentives. Companies engage directly with upstream suppliers for a variety of reasons, from materials costs to quality control. Leading companies have found ways to integrate child labor and other human rights issues into other dealings with suppliers, making them complementary and mutually reinforcing.
To learn more ways companies can work to eliminate child labor, see the Bureau of International Labor Affairs' child labor and forced labor toolkit at https://www.dol.gov/ilab/child-forced-labor.
Source: 7 Things Companies Can Do to Fight Child Labor, Bureau of International Labor Affairs, U.S. Department of Labor, https://blog.dol.gov/2016/06/10/7-things-companies-can-do-to-fight-child-labor.