Impossible to end child labor while major countries, firms profit from ‘slavery’: Activist

By Agencies June 15, 2023 1468

Eliminating child labor will remain a pipe dream as long as major countries and big corporations continue to exploit this modern-day “slavery” for their supply chains, according to a prominent rights activist.

“There are 1 million children working inside the US and more than a million children working inside the EU,” Fernando Morales-de la Cruz, a rights activist, journalist and social entrepreneur, told Anadolu in a conversation ahead of the World Day Against Child Labor, marked annually on June 12.

“Sadly, there are tens of millions of children working in the supply chains of the US and EU. This has to stop.”

He said countries such as Norway and Switzerland also continue to “profit from the exploitation of millions of children by corporations.”

According to Morales-de la Cruz, more than 75 million children are being exploited in global supply chains.

In Africa, the region with the highest figures, he said child labor in the supply chains of major corporations is akin to “slavery in the 21st century.”

He also called out companies with “exploitative business models” for touting the Child Labor Monitoring and Remediation System (CMLRS) or aid efforts as signs of their positive intent.

“CLMRS and development aid are only tools to pretend they care,” he added.

The only real way to eradicate poverty and eliminate child labor is to increase “the prices paid to farmers and the wages paid to workers,” he underlined.

2025 goal ‘impossible’

Given the pervasive exploitation of children in global supply chains, the world is “very far” from actually eradicating child labor, Morales-de la Cruz asserted.

According to International Labor Organization (ILO) data, at least 160 million children were being made to work around the globe in 2021 – almost one in 10 of all children worldwide.

Nearly half of them were in hazardous work that directly endangers their health, safety and development.

Morales-de la Cruz, who leads several initiatives working on child labor, slavery and poverty, argued that the actual numbers could be as high as double the ILO figures.

He was referring to a September 2022 study by academics from the University of Zurich and University of Pennsylvania, which said the ILO numbers might “greatly underestimate the extent of the issue, since child labor indicators are typically based on surveys with parents – who have no incentive to truthfully disclose that their children work.”

The report said more than 373 million children between age 7 and 14 could be affected by child labor worldwide, “nearly 3-fold its global prevalence according to the World Development Indicators.”

Morales-de la Cruz categorically rejected any possibility of the international community achieving its aim of ending child labor by 2025.

“It’s impossible. Even after the G-7 and EU committed in Elmau and Hiroshima, not a single developed nation has a concrete plan to eliminate child labor in its supply chains or even inside their own countries,” he said.

He pointed to the concerted efforts underway in various US states to loosen child labor laws to allow companies to employ kids aged 14 and older, as well as recent legislation allowing children as young as 12 to work in small agricultural businesses in Quebec, Canada.

“This is contrary to the commitments of President (Joe) Biden and Prime Minister (Justin) Trudeau at G-7 summits,” he stressed.

​​​​​​​In the US, the Department of Labor reported a 69% rise in children being employed illegally since 2018, including 3,800 violations across 835 companies in the 2022 fiscal year, damning figures that come amid legislative overhauls in Republican-majority states.

Much of the increase was tied to migrant children who entered the US illegally and who do not have a parent in the country, the department said in a February report.

Even international organizations like the UN, which have obligations under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child, are unable to eliminate child labor in their own supply chains, Morales-de la Cruz added.

He said there can be no effective solution until major countries and big companies are held accountable, and called on the thousands of business and political leaders who gather for the World Economic Forum in Davos each year to take the lead in efforts to address the issue.

​​​​​​​The ILO declined to comment on Anadolu’s queries about possible discrepancies in its global child labor statistics, as well as Morales-de la Cruz’s allegations about the prevalence of child labor in supply chains of international organizations such as the UN.