Asia: Tackling child labour in the cotton industry

Children involved in child labour in global value chains are amongst the most vulnerable. These chains, ranging from agriculture to manufacturing and from extraction to services, involve all of us as consumers of the final product. This is why Terre des hommes (Tdh) supports and advocates for children at risk of or affected by child labour, along with working to provide decent work conditions for young people.

152 million children are involved in child labour worldwide – among these, 72 million are engaged in hazardous work (Global Estimates 2017, ILO). In India, a child working in a cotton seed farm receives less than $1.50 per day, working up to 12 hours under extreme conditions. “Children from economically vulnerable backgrounds often do not have any other choice but to work to contribute to their families’ income, missing out on accessing regular schooling and leisure time,” explains Anna Lazar, country representative of India. “Children often work in unsafe and unhealthy conditions, over long hours, under the sun or are exposed to chemicals which negatively affect their wellbeing and development.” Moreover, children migrating in search of better incomes are frequently exposed to risks such as trafficking or sexual exploitation as well, the girls in particular.

Promoting alternatives

Children and their families are at the core of Tdh’s activities. Beyond providing basic services, Tdh encourages children affected by or at risk of child labour to shift to adapted alternatives like education or vocational training for themselves and their families.

Asia: a girl

With this mission and vision in mind, Tdh is starting to work throughout the cotton value chain in Asia, because we have gathered evidence that working conditions in this sector adversely affect the wellbeing, protection and development of children, young people and their families. Our approach focuses on several steps of the cotton value chain throughout the Asian continent. In India, for example, the focus will initially be on cotton production. In Bangladesh, spinning mills and secondary suppliers to the garment industry are sectors of concern, while the fast-developing garment sector in Myanmar requires increased scrutiny in terms of child labour.

Achieving change together

“Businesses who share our vision are key allies in mitigating the risks of child labour in value chains, working together with local stakeholders and communities to develop business solutions which address this global problem,” explains Peggy Herrmann Ljubicic, in charge of Tdh’s Tackling Child Labour Programme. Cooperating with both the supply and demand sides of the cotton value chain will bring long-lasting impact and allows on the one hand tailored activities for children and their families by improving livelihoods, providing vocational training and supporting their communities, while on the other hand building up the necessary basis, such as corporate policies and codes of conduct which integrate child labour issues.

We believe that a collective effort is fundamental to overcome the barriers to tackle child labour in global value chains. We want to bridge the gap between consumers and producers at the other end of the value chain, a gap which can be reduced with innovative and context-appropriate solutions. On the occasion of the World Day against Child Labour, we should think about the children involved in child labour worldwide, bearing in mind that together we can make a difference.

Photo credits: ©Tdh/Christian Brun and François Struzik

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