Child and Forced Labour

Fairtrade certified producer organizations and traders are committed to preventing and effectively eliminating all forms of Forced Labour, Child Labour and human trafficking, in accordance with the principles of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) conventions and the United Nations Global Compact (UNGC). This commitment is enshrined in the Fairtrade Standards for Small Producer Organizations, Hired Labour and Contract Production, and Trader Standards.

Fairtrade recognizes that Child Labour and Forced Labour remain problems in many parts of the world where we operate. Fairtrade is committed to playing a positive role in enabling producers, workers and processors to adopt a rights-based approach to eliminating exploitative labour practices, by working cooperatively with Fairtrade Producer Networks and their producer and worker organizations, including suppliers, industry, non-governmental organizations, trade unions and governmental bodies, to address abuses that may exist in Fairtrade global supply chains.

Fairtrade’s Child Labour and Forced Labour Guidelines serve as operational steps to be followed by Fairtrade producer organization and processors within their own operations and, in addition, should be communicated to all operators with whom they do business.

NAPP Child and Vulnerable Adults Policy (PDF)
Download Fairtrade’s Child Labour and Forced Labour Guidelines (PDF)

Child Labour

According to ILO estimates, there are around 168 million child labourers in the world; around half of them working in hazardous conditions.

In recent years, Fairtrade International (FLO) has dedicated considerable resources to strengthening our work to protect children. Child labour is not only a problem perpetuated by poverty and unfair terms of trade, it is also a result of exploitation, lack of access to quality education and social protection, discrimination, conflict, HIV/AIDS and natural disasters, among others.

Child labour is a complex universal issue affecting boys and girls in most countries of the world. According to the International Labour Organization (ILO) there are around 168 million child labourers in the world; nearly half of them work in hazardous conditions. Risk analyst firm Maplecroft rates 76 countries as at ‘extreme’ risk of child labour.

Child labour refers to work that is harmful to a child’s physical and mental health and wellbeing, and/or interferes with their education, leisure and development. Child labour does not refer to children or adolescents helping around the house or on the family farm outside of school hours and during school holidays provided that this work is appropriate to their level of development.

International law separates child labour into 3 categories:

  • Unconditional worst forms of child labour, such as slavery, commercial sexual exploitation and the use of children in illicit activities;
  • Hazardous work, which is to be defined by each country in consultation with workers and employers);
  • Labour performed under the minimum age as established by law.

It is estimated that 98 million children and youth work in agriculture. Many of them do not attend any form of school, have little time to play, do not receive proper nutrition or care and more than half of them are exposed to the worst forms of child labour (e.g. work in hazardous environments, slavery, or other forms of forced labour). Many of the types of work girls and boys are involved in are hidden and therefore difficult to track, suggesting that the actual number of child labourers could be much higher, especially for some girls.

Identifying and addressing child labour while respecting the rights of adolescents and youth to appropriate work is important yet challenging. Investing in and ensuring child rights now is both the right thing to do and an investment in the future of agricultural communities.

The Fairtrade Approach

We believe that children in Fairtrade communities can play a central role in empowering themselves and their communities to combat poverty, strengthen their position, and take more control over their lives.

Fairtrade is committed to fighting the root causes of child labour and proactively preventing the abuse and exploitation of children. We seek advice and guidance from expert international non-governmental organizations to ensure that the rights of children are upheld, including their right to live in a safe and protective environment.

We work with Fairtrade producer communities to encourage them to establish a child-inclusive, community-based monitoring and remediation system on child labour in partnership with child rights NGOs so that boys and girls in producer communities can enjoy increased well-being.

Putting child protection first

Fairtrade International has instituted a mandatory Child Protection Policy and Procedure for all Fairtrade staff and consultants, which demonstrates our commitment to not only actively preventing child labour, but also ensuring our approach and methods of identifying and remediating the unacceptable work does not cause more harm. We remain committed to solving children’s real problems and not producing new ones for them. In so doing, we honour our obligations toward the safety and welfare of children.

We follow the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), especially the guiding principles, including “Best Interests of the Child” and note that these should be given primary consideration, in addition to the relevant International Labour Organization Conventions.

A Child-Centered Approach

We believe that children and youth in Fairtrade communities, where possible, should play a central role in empowering themselves and their communities to combat poverty, strengthen their position and take more control over their lives. Our child-inclusive approach builds on the capacity of children and youth in producer communities to contribute to self-monitoring, managing and tackling child labour within their own lives in an on-going, sustainable basis so they become agents of active change in building prosperous lives in agriculture.

How Child Labour is addressed in the Fairtrade Standards

Fairtrade prohibits child labour as defined by the International Labour Organization (ILO) minimum age and the worst forms of child labour conventions. No person or product certification system can, however, provide a 100% guarantee that a product is free of child labour.

What Fairtrade guarantees is that if we find breaches to our child labour requirements, we take immediate action to protect the impacted child or children. We work with national child protection agencies and/or child rights organizations when possible to ensure duty bearers engage in safe remediation and secure the impacted child’s/children’s long-term wellbeing. We then work with the producer organization to help them strengthen their programs and systems to detect and prevent child labour. Failure to have adequate systems in place leads to suspension and then decertification if the producer organization does not address the problem. Fairtrade has chosen to work in products and regions with known risk of child labour because this is where our work is most needed.

Specific criteria in the Fairtrade Standards that apply directly to child labour include.

  • Children below the age of 15 are not to be employed by Fairtrade organizations either directly or indirectly.
  • Children below the age of 18 cannot undertake in work that jeopardises schooling or the social, moral or physical development of the person
  • Children are only allowed to help on family farms under strict conditions. The work must be age appropriate and be done outside of school hours or during holidays.
  • If a small producer organization is in an area with a high likelihood of child labour, they are encouraged to include a mitigation and elimination plan in their Fairtrade Development Plan
  • If an organization has identified child labour as a risk, the organization must implement policy and procedures to prevent children from being employed.

Please find complete information in the respective Fairtrade Standards here.

Beyond the Standards

As part of efforts to ensure that producers remain compliant on the requirements of Fairtrade Standards, Fairtrade has been encouraging producers in the informal sectors to take a leadership role in going beyond minimum standard requirements and play a proactive and continuous role to improve the real conditions for children and youth in their communities.

Other efforts include:

  • Engagement with child rights experts – We are building partnerships with expert organizations and have sought feedback from partners and received their recommendations for developing a rights-based strategy and framework of action for eliminating child labor in key agricultural commodities
  • Focus groups with children in Fairtrade communities – Fairtrade International conducts focus groups with school-going girls and boys in Fairtrade communities to find out about their education, work, future aspirations and the impact of Fairtrade on their lives – essential inputs as we continuously improve our proactive approach to increased wellbeing of girls and boys and young people.
  • Training Fairtrade staff – Child labour and child protection training has been given to all relevant staff at Fairtrade International’s headquarters and in producer countries, including liaison officers in all our regions of operations. A second phase of training in countries and commodities identified by the U.S. Department of Labor List of Goods Produced by Child Labour or Forced Labour among others is currently underway.

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