7 June, 2018

There are 151m children in child labour; that’s 151m reasons to stop the practice.

World Day Against Child Labour Banner
by Molly Harriss Olson

From the food we eat to the clothes we wear, agriculture plays a major role in our everyday lives. Unfortunately, it is also the industry responsible for 108 million child labourers globally, or more than 70 percent of all child labour.

The thought of a 5-year-old working on a coffee plantation is enough to make anyone’s morning brew too bitter to stomach, but how often do we stop to think about who farmed the produce we so readily consume? And what price do those children have to pay for our access to cheap, plentiful products?

This World Day Against Child Labour it’s time to ask those questions, because the cost to child labourers can be everything from their development to their education. For children doing the most hazardous work, the cost can be their bodies or their lives. 

For those of us in countries like Australia and New Zealand the thought of intentionally endangering children by making them work is inconceivable. The cruel reality is that children aren’t being put in danger by choice, sometimes it’s the only way a family can survive. More than two-thirds of child labour happens on family farms or in a family context, and for families living in poverty a working child can literally be the difference between life and death, eating or starving. It’s no surprise that in low-income (<$US1,045 GNI per capita) countries one in five children are labourers. But even wealthy countries – where the sight of a primary school-aged child working in dangerous conditions or for long hours would shock onlookers – aren’t immune. It is believed one percent of children in high income nations are still victims of child labour.  

The global community took a stand for children everywhere when it prioritised the eradication of child labour as one of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Some of us dared to hope that child labour, one of the great injustices of our time, would be a thing of the past by the time the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were created in 2015. We got closer, but nowhere near close enough to the eradication of child labour in all its forms.  

It’s a goal that sits at the centre of Fairtrade’s purpose and we have a broad two-pronged approach to tackling the problem. Firstly, we target trade systems as a whole to improve incomes and wages for as many people as possible. Ensuring fair prices for produce helps eradicate poverty and supports communities working for better futures. We know that when producers and workers can provide for their families and can envision stable futures their children are more likely to be in school than servitude. Secondly, we maintain a child rights-based approach and work with individual children as part of the certification process. Fairtrade certified cooperatives and producers have to have child labour-free supply chains, while supporting former child labourers to make sure they aren’t left vulnerable to other exploitation – to stop them slipping through the cracks into the worst forms of child labour.   

As part of a global community taking steps to end this modern evil, we are making progress. There were more than 245 million children in child labour in 2000, dropping by 94 million by 2016. The number of children in the worst forms of labour – the types that pose a threat to their physical or psychological wellbeing – has fallen by almost 100 million. For more than 151 million children, however, that progress was not good enough. The task in front of us is a challenging one, but there are 151 million reasons why we need to succeed.

Here at Fairtrade we know that more than ever we need to continue working towards the global commitment made by so many in the MDGs and subsequent SDGs. 

But just because an issue is complex and needs to be tackled by powerful bodies doesn’t we don’t need your help to get this done. Next time you’re heading out for a coffee, shopping for a cotton shirt or indulging in a chocolate treat it’s worth asking, “Who farmed the raw ingredients?” On June 12, the World Day Against Child Labour, ask the question. Get your friends to ask. And commit to looking for the Fairtrade Mark when you shop so you can be certain the wellbeing of children has been incorporated into the supply chain. 

There are 151 million children out there who deserve better. Show them you agree.

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