ECPAT UK is calling on governments across the world to honour the commitment to eradicate child labour on global World Day Against Child Labour (12th June).

On this global day of action, we are also urging all British companies to adopt a zero tolerance to child labour in their products and across their supply chains, including those which encompass countries where bonded or forced labour involving children is still common.

Globally, there are still 168 million children engaged in work, according to the International Labour Organisation. Of which 85 million are engaged in hazardous work, manufacturing products such as garments, carpets, toys and jewellery, and in the production of numerous agricultural products, including fruit and vegetables, cocoa, coffee, and cotton.

These children are denied the right to education, exposed to dangerous conditions and not protected by national and international law. Around 80% of all forced labour is in private enterprises generating an estimated profit of $150 billion per annum.

Child labour and modern slavery exists in the UK and can involve UK citizens, as well as foreign nationals. In 2016, a total of 3,805 victims of trafficking were referred to the UK Government’s official identification system - the National Referral Mechanism. More than a third of all potential victims of trafficking were children aged 18 and under, with a majority of children exploited in labour exploitation, which includes domestic servitude, sexual exploitation and forced criminality, such as cannabis cultivation. 

In 2016, the UK, along with 150 world leaders, agreed to achieve Sustainable Development Goals, with the aim to end poverty, hunger and inequality, improve access to health, and more. Goal 8 includes a commitment to “take immediate and effective measures to eradicate forced labour, end modern slavery and human trafficking and secure the prohibition and elimination of the worst forms of child labour, including recruitment and use of child soldiers, and by 2025 end child labour in all its forms”.

In 2015/16, England and Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland, introduced specific legislation to cover the issue of modern slavery and trafficking. This legislation introduced a legal responsibility on companies with a turnover of £36 million a year or more to publish a “slavery and human trafficking statement” for each financial year, disclosing steps each company has taken to ensure slavery and human trafficking is not taking place in its supply chain or its own business. The statement must be approved by senior management and published on the organisation’s website. Such disclosures can help companies raise awareness about child labour and exploitative conditions and help to eliminate such practices.

Bharti Patel, CEO of ECPAT UK, said: “Child labour and child exploitation are indicators of weaknesses in child protection and welfare systems. To eradicate child labour, more concrete action needs to be taken by governments, the private and public sector all working together to adopt a zero tolerance approach.

“All children, irrespective of their nationality or situation, have the universal right to be protected from economic exploitation and hazardous or harmful work, and this should be reflected in every nations’ social and welfare protection policies and practices.

“Where child labour is found, it must be recognised as a form of abuse and those responsible brought to justice. Governments and businesses must seek to identify the root causes of child labour and take corrective action to develop a responsible and sustainable solution that is in the best and long-term interest of those affected.”