Photo by AsiaInspection.
June 12, 2016, marks the World Day Against Child Labor, and this year, child labor in supply chain is in focus. With over 168 million child laborers worldwide, this problem still remains grave. In addition to the disadvantages faced by many workers in poorer countries, such as hazardous working conditions, long hours, lack of mandated leave, etc., child laborers are denied a fundamental human right: the right to education.
In the daily work of AsiaInspection (AI), a global product safety, quality, and compliance provider, child labor is a critical factor in any social audit carried out for AI’s clients. Any indication of underage workers being present at a factory is enough to give a social audit a failing grade, and label the factory as non-compliant.
However, for any brand that discovers their supplier has been compromised, simply choosing a different factory may not the best solution. A more constructive way forward is to work with the factory to ensure that child laborers are put back in school.
In investigating child labor, AI’s process is not limited to identifying and reporting the problem. Coordinating their efforts with the brand, AI’s social auditors ensure the child laborer’s safety and create an environment in which they feel comfortable discussing their honest views on work and education. With an understanding of the underage worker’s family and economic situation, AI and the brand engage the help of NGOs to improve it.
The most common reason for child and underage labor is the family’s need for an extra provider. Because of this, one of the best ways to handle the problem is ensuring education for the child while securing the income they used to bring to their family. Some brands put pressure on their suppliers to replace the child laborer with an adult member of their family, or to pay the child’s salary while they receive their education.
People often restrict their idea of child labor to very young children. However, workers in their early teens are equally vulnerable, and their being underage is not always immediately apparent. The International Labour Organization sets the minimum working age at 15, and rules that no-one under 18 should be involved in hazardous work.
Another key aspect of the definition of child labor by the ILO is “work that deprives children of the opportunity to attend school.” Indeed, child labor is incompatible with education, and here are five reasons why:
- Child labor is a barrier to education access and enrollment
Even in communities where schools are available, child labor is often perceived as the best use of the children’s time. Recent studies confirm that child labor is negatively correlated with school enrolment and delays school entry. For example, in Cambodia, a child is 17% less likely to enter school at the enrolment age. Child labor also increases drop-out rates, as poverty forces many children out of schools and into paying jobs.
- Child labor is a barrier to learning
In countries where child labor is common, children who combine work and school are disadvantaged compared to children in full-time education. Limited time and exhaustion from work greatly impairs their participation, and they are much less likely to receive the full benefits of the education available to them. A 2014 study of sixty countries showed that working children face an attendance disadvantage of 10% to 30% compared to their non-working counterparts (Policy Paper: Out-of-school Children and Child Labor. Global March Against Child Labour, 2014). Statistically, working children have lower test scores, poorer attendance rates, and are more likely to repeat grades.
- Child labor traps children in poverty
Entering the workforce too early diminishes a child’s lifetime earning potential. Child laborers have very limited ability to take advantage of educational opportunities that would help them receive better-paying jobs as adults. As a result, someone who started working as a child may remain in a low-paying and hazardous job for the rest of their life, failing to improve their own economic position and that of their future family.
- Child labor has consequences for the next generation
As a logical consequence of the above reason, child labor can perpetuate inter-generational cycles of poverty. Parents who entered the workforce early at the expense of schooling are more likely to compel their children to do the same: for economic reasons, as well as due to the acquired expectation that turning their child into an earner is more important than giving them an education.
- Education and child labor are co-dependent challenges
Without access to quality and free education, many families and children themselves will view work as the better option – if the benefits of education aren’t obvious, or school tuition is not affordable. However, simply offering good education options is not enough to tackle all child labor problems. Economic incentives must be offered for children to stay in school instead of dropping out early, and awareness of the importance of education must be raised among all family members.
While child labor is a deeply entrenched, multidimensional problem that requires complex solution, one thing remains clear. As long as child labor exists, universal primary education cannot happen, and simultaneously, until all children have access to free and quality education, child labor will persist.
“Cutting ties with a non-compliant supplier can help a brand’s reputation, but will contribute little to the bigger picture, at AI, we aim to work together with brands, supplies, and NGOs to ensure education for children and secure their future.” – Sébastien Breteau, CEO, AsiaInspection.