Researchers recommend creation of a “child labour free zone” and more responsible, transparent supply chains in leather and footwear production
WASHINGTON – A new research study from the Fair Labor Association (FLA), iMentor and the Stop Child Labour Coalition (SCL) confirms the substantial prevalence of child labor in footwear production in the city of Agra, one of India’s primary centers of domestic and export production of leather footwear.
To reduce the incidence of child labor in Agra, the FLA and SCL propose collaboration in Agra among buyers, suppliers, government, civil society, and communities to establish a “Child Labour Free Zone.” In creating a “Child Labour Free Zone,” participants focus not on a specific industry sector, but on eliminating all forms of child labor from a specific geographic area, whether children are working to produce footwear, in the tourism industry, or in some other sector. To support this endeavor, the report also includes numerous recommendations for how buyers and suppliers operating in Agra can collaborate to build more responsible and transparent supply chains free from child labor.
“Curbing child labor in Agra requires the involvement and collaboration of multiple stakeholders. There is no one level of the chain or participant in the industry who working alone can erase child labor,” said Sharon Waxman, president and CEO of FLA. “The industry is incredibly complex, and our research shows that buyers and suppliers must work together in concert with community-based efforts supported by local governments, civil society organizations, and communities to be successful in reducing and preventing child labor.”
Researchers found that in the area of Agra they surveyed, only 55 percent of children were enrolled in school. Of the working children in the surveyed communities, half had never attended school at all, with many working at home, or in informal, small production units making shoes. Interviews with workers and other community stakeholders revealed that the root cause of child labor in the footwear industry can often be traced to low earnings from footwear production and a lack of educational infrastructure.
Because of very low wages that sometimes fall below the legal minimum, researchers found that parents alone are not able to earn enough to adequately provide for their families when only parents are working in the footwear industry. Meanwhile, government high schools (for children 12 and older) do not exist in the communities visited by the project, and for children younger than 12, local primary schools are too few and not adequately equipped to provide children with a robust education.
“A community-based approach to get all children out of work and (back) into school, as well as proper risk assessment and concrete measures by footwear companies to solve issues of child labor and other labor right violations in their supply chain, are both absolutely nececessary,” said Sofie Ovaa, co-ordinator of the Stop Child Labour Coalition. “The combination of a community–based approach to stop child labour in the sourcing and production areas, and top down policies and their implementation to improve labor conditions in the full supply chain, including paying fair wages, will lead to lasting results.”
Although the research team documented no child labor in the export facilities they visited, they found examples of subcontracting to informal workplaces, increasing the risks for international buyers seeking to source leather and footwear parts from this region. Companies are under increasing pressure – from governments, civil society, consumers, investors, and others – to examine whether child labor occurs anywhere in their supply chains and develop a plan of action to address any risks vulnerabilities they uncover.
The FLA and SCL outline a series of recommendations for companies to help mitigate child labor and contribute to responsible supply chains in Agra, including direct and regular collaboration with suppliers to build trust and obtain accurate information about subcontracting. Researchers advise buyers to conduct regular visits, focusing on indicators of unauthorized subcontracting, and to avoid purchasing practices that exert economic pressure leading to child labor. These efforts should be supported by a parallel community-based effort to work toward a child labor-free zone – including actions to improve educational opportunities for younger children and vocational training for older students eager to enter the workforce.
With an estimated 152 million children currently engaged in child labor globally, multinational corporations will be challenged to confront this issue across many sectors and supply chains. The Fair Labor Association and the Stop Child Labour Coalition will continue to work to help companies identify these risks and build models to effectively mitigate them.
The Fair Labor Association promotes and protects workers’ rights and improves workplace conditions through collaboration between business, civil society, and colleges and universities. The FLA conducts transparent and independent monitoring to ensure that rigorous labor standards are upheld wherever FLA affiliates source their products, identifies root causes of non-compliances, and proposes solutions to workplace problems. The FLA is headquartered in Washington, D.C., and maintains offices in Geneva and Shanghai. www.fairlabor.org
The Stop Child Labour Coalition is an alliance of six Dutch NGOs and trade unions working closely together with local organisations in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Stop Child Labour partners work with an area based approach that has proven to be an effective method to get all children in a certain area out of work and (back) into school. This enables the creation of ‘child labour free zones’: a specific area (village, neighbourhood etc.) where all stakeholders – community-based organisations, teachers, parents, children, local authorities and companies – work together around the norm that ‘no child should work – every child must be in school’. http://www.stopchildlabour.eu/