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child-labourChild labour is not a rare occurrence.  It is rife within supply chains. Some businesses are doing all they can to eradicate child labour from their supply chains, some are unaware it could even be a problem whilst others are resistant in addressing the issue.

When we speak about child labour we are not talking about children who engage with housework, part-time jobs or provide a helping hand in the family business.  Child labour is defined under Article 3 of ILO Convention No. 182 and includes using children in the following ways:

  • Prostitution
  • Slavery
  • Illegal drugs
  • Pornography

Child Labour is about ‘Labour that jeopardises the physical, mental or moral well-being of a child, either because of its nature or because of the conditions in which it is carried out, is known as “hazardous work”.[1]

There are voices that seek to justify child labour so are there genuine circumstances where the use of child labour in supply chains can be justified?  This is the question that businesses and individuals should ask themselves.

Below is a list of some of the most common justifications with a response that outlines why justifications are nothing more than myths.

Possible justifications for child labour-Myth busting!

Justification 1. Without child labour a family could not survive.  Children can bring in vital income to a family by helping the family business or working externally.  This justification can be summed in one word: POVERTY.


Myth busting:. Jo Becker who is the Children’s Rights Advocacy Director from Human Rights Watch said that “Child labour may be seen as a short-term solution to economic hardship, but it is actually a cause of poverty.”  Child labour keeps children from being educated.  Without education then the next generation of children remain illiterate and incapable of working their way out of the cycle of poverty.

Justification 2. Small businesses in developing countries benefit from using child labour as they can pay less wages.  Families also benefit as they receive some form of income opposed to none.

Myth busting: Child labour is a cause of adult unemployment.  Children are paid far less and made to work longer hours which is a far more attractive proposition for those businesses seeking to operate as cheaply as possible.  Adult workers are then left without an income continuing the poverty cycle that then throws children back into the labour market.

Justification 3: Due to cultural views, young girls are less likely to be educated especially if she has male siblings.  Child labour provides some form of income and/or work for young girls.

Myth busting: Child labour supports discrimination against girls and keeps them from being educated.  Girls can end up being used in the sex industry or remain at home receiving little or no education.

Justification 4. Children are necessary to carry out essential work that requires their small hands for intricate work or their small frames in confined spaces such as mines.

Myth busting: Child labour forces children to perform life threatening work that should only be performed by skilled and trained adults where relevant health and safety systems are in place.


As a country in the 1800’s the UK sought to outlaw the practice of children in the labour force.  Long gone are the days of child chimney sweeps with soot covered faces or work houses for children to earn their keep and provide a minimal income for their impoverished families.

The justifications that are listed above are the same justifications that were cited by those in this country who deemed child labour was a necessary practice especially for the poorest British families.  Over time the use of children was deemed as distasteful and slowly the education of children became the way to help end family poverty.  As a country we may have outlawed child labour but we still remain entangled in the use of child labour.  The only difference now compared with the 1800’s is that the children do not work up our chimneys or in our factories. Instead they pick the cocoa beans that are used in our colossal chocolate consumption and are sent down mines to lay dynamite and search for the diamonds that give us our engagement bling.

If we found child labour so distasteful in this country then why is it that we are compliant in still using children from other countries?  Is it a case of hear no evil, see no evil?  We must not fall into the snare that child labour can somehow be a justified practice.  Poverty underpins child labour so surely the approach is to attack the root cause?  Child labour may eleviate a small amount of poverty for families but this is not a long term solution.  All this does is place a false glaze over the issue of child labour instead of uncovering it and exposing it for the vile practice that it is.

The solution is not easy, fast or cheap but it is possible.  For those that do want to see change they face an uphill battle but the advice is too keep going.


  1. Take responsibility. Who bears the responsibility of helping to end child labour? The answer is everyone.  We cannot expect to see a change for children if we do not recognize that every single person has a responsibility to do something.  Whether you are a business or a consumer the choices you make effect child labour.
  1. A collaborative approach. Some of the actions required to end child labour are substantial but a collaborative approach can help spread the cost and hard work. If a business along with a local government can collaborate on inititives such as the provision of groceries for a family to compensate for lost income of a child who instead receives an education then child labour can be ended.
  1. Children should be in school.   If a business is working within a region and reaping the benefits of doing so then the question they must ask themselves is ‘Is there sufficient schooling for ALL children’?  If the answer is no then this should raise a warning flag for businesses.  If there are no schools then what are the children doing on a day to day basis?  The chances are they are used in the local labour market.  Businesses as a part of a collaborative approach can work with others to implement schooling.
  1. Supply Chain Transparency. Business should know their supply chains and understand the complexity that surrounds them. Mapping supply chains and getting an intimate knowledge of the layers that make up a supply chain is key.
  1. Getting informed to not only be able to identify but also respond to child labour is essential for businesses. If you do not know what you are looking for then how do you know you do not have child labour?  Child labour is a hidden part of the supply chain and knowing how best to uncover it will not only protect businesses but can help bring about an end to child labour.


[1] ILO A future without child labour, Global Report under the follow-up to the ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights and Work  (Geneva, 2002).