Among the roughly 152 million child laborers globally, 108 million work in agriculture. The Fair Labor Association (FLA) anticipates that the COVID-19 pandemic will make their precarious situation worse, with both short and long-term negative impacts. Some of the expected impacts include:
- Potential increase in child labor*: Labor shortages caused by limited movement of workers may increase the prevalence of child labor for children already performing light work, and incidence of child labor with more children entering work force. School closures may lead to increased involvement of children working on their parents’ farms or with parents who work as laborers on other farms. Migrant children and children in rural areas are particularly vulnerable.
- Greater food insecurity: Families in the agriculture sector are more likely to lack social and health protections. School closures prevent access to food programs; reduced family incomes make food less available and affordable.
- Economic distress and poverty: Families face a reduced ability to earn a livelihood and build savings, exacerbating already difficult financial situations and increasing the risk that children will be pushed to work to support their families.
- Reduced ability to monitor: Limited field-level monitoring by government, industry, and civil society organizations increases the risk of child labor.
Guidance for Business and Supply Chain Partners
The FLA has developed guidance for agriculture sector companies and suppliers to monitor and remediate child labor issues. This guidance is developed based on the FLA Code of Conduct and Principles for Responsible Sourcing for the Agriculture Sector that are aligned with the ILO Fundamental Conventions, UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and the Children’s Rights and Business Principles. The steps listed below reflect potential immediate responses and longer-term opportunities for business engagement in addressing child protection.
- Enable and support access to essential services (including health, hygiene and sanitation, food and nutrition, and safe transportation and accommodations) for children, agriculture workers, and farming communities.
- Protect all children in the supply chain from child labor, including the worst forms of child labor and hazardous child labor, as those terms are defined by the ILO.
- Where children are engaged in farm work, including those assisting their families, apply guidelines on light work (see appendix).
- Facilitate and support remedial actions with the support of supply chain partners, producers, and other local organizations for children engaged in the child labor and hazardous work.
- Enable and facilitate worker voice and effective grievance channels for children and their families.
Practical Steps to Protect Children in Supply Chains
The following 15 practical steps for companies and suppliers to consider undertaking, either on their own or preferably in coordination with other companies and suppliers in common areas of operations.
1. Through field teams and local supply chain partners, maintain an ongoing dialogue with farmers, and provide regular updates and information on company protocols. Develop talking points (in local languages) for the field teams who engage directly with farmers and workers about COVID-19 impacts. The narrative should express a company's understanding of this exceptional situation, empathy towards farmers and workers and their families, and commitment to support them on an ongoing basis.
2. Collect farm-level information about the workforce at farms, including worker profiles, with the support of local supply chain partners. This can be achieved through phone conversations or sending a few simple questions through SMS or other channels like WhatsApp. The worker profiling will gauge the magnitude of a worker shortage, risk of underage workers, and the number of families that need support on farms.
- Example of questions:
- How many workers were contracted (verbally or in writing) this season to work on your farm? (Number)
- Are the workers still able to arrive at the farm? (Yes/No)
- Did you have to (partly/temporarily) lay-off workers due to the COVID 19 pandemic, including because of government regulations? (Yes/No)
- Do you have a sufficient workforce to enable you to maintain operations without interruption? (Yes/No/Partly)
- Are your family members able to support your operations if you are facing a labor shortage? (Yes/No/Partly)
- Are the workers arriving at your farm with their family members? (Yes/No/Partly)
- Are the workers’ family members, including children below 15 years also engaged in farm work? (Yes/No/Partly)
- What type of tasks do the children perform? (List of types of work)
3. Communicate to farmers preventative health measures such as the provision of clean drinking water, soap, sanitizers, etc., training on hygiene, keeping distance while working, and related measures. Consider online communication methods such as phone calls, SMS, WhatsApp.
4. Reinforce the message with farmers about avoiding the involvement of children below 15 years in farm activities, unless it is done according to the “light work” parameters.
5. Consider partnering with international and national relief agencies and local supply chain partners on the distribution of hygiene, food kits and monetary contribution to workers and their families to reduce the financial needs of families to employ children to afford food and sanitary materials.
6. Map existing local resources such as helplines, referral services, and local support organizations for children and workers. Disseminate this information to farmers and workers.
7. Recognizing the increased risk of child labor, aim to establish a child-friendly grievance mechanism, that is safe, effective, child-sensitive, and easily accessible to all children as described in the UNICEF guidance.
8. Honor all supplier purchase agreements, including payment terms, and other contract conditions that will help farmers maintain employment agreements with workers and ensure payment of legal wages so that families do not have to engage their children in work.
9. Compensate additional costs of production to the farmers (due to inflated costs for transportation, provision of personal protective equipment, running awareness trainings, and labor costs).
10. Support farmers by additional means, such as through knowledge on COVID-19 management, technical expertise, business continuity planning, information on local resources, and financial inputs.
11. Engage with local authorities to provide needed resources such as clean water, disinfectants; and testing and medical assistance to farmers, workers, and their families.
12. For farms where worker families reside, request suppliers to monitor the presence of children on site (due to school closure) and take remedial action if children are undertaking work that is harmful to their health and safety or illegal based on their age.
13. Collaborate with health agencies and medical-service NGOs to facilitate access to health care services beyond COVID-19. This may include home visitation where farmers and workers' children are at elevated risk of domestic violence, sexual harassment, or mental health concerns during prolonged quarantines, lockdowns, and other freedom of movement restrictions.
14. Consider opportunities to collaborate and provide monetary assistance to schools and learning centers and community-based organizations to create a COVID 19 adjusted/alternative learning delivery during the pandemic so that children can continue their education and resume promptly once schools reopen.
15. Support farmers’ and workers’ children to continue their education during the pandemic, including supplying appropriate learning materials, school kits, and access to Internet connectivity and other relevant communication technologies.
*Child Labor: Children engaged in work that deprives them of their childhood, their education, their potential and their dignity, and that is harmful to physical and mental development. Child labor can be classified as all forms of work done by children under ILO Convention 138 on the minimum age for employment including work that keeps children from education and leisure) and as well as the worst forms of child labor and hazardous child labor) under Convention 182. (ILO-IPEC).
Appendix: Recognized parameters of “light work” for children
This compilation of light work has been developed by the FLA based on our engagement and consultations with the ILO and other international and national stakeholders. To be considered light work, the following conditions should be observed:
- The work is performed under direct supervision;
- Provide at least 24 hours break per 7 days;
- Allow the child to attend school without interference;
- Parental consent and other documentation (as required by local law);
- Work should be less strenuous, performed under normal conditions, and include appropriate rest breaks (for example, no standing for several hours, working under high temperatures, etc.)
- Limit work for children 12-14 years of age to no more than 14 hours per week.
- No use of chemicals (e.g. herbicides, fertilizers, pesticides);
- No carrying of heavy loads;
- No dangerous tools (such as machete, sharp tools, etc.);
- No operating or assisting in operating any type of machine, including tractors, saws, and power engines;
- No working on heights (e.g., either trees or ladders);
- No working in confined spaces (e.g., a silo or storage area that are confined and may have toxic air); No work at night (before 06:00 am, and after 08:00 pm);
- No dangerous tasks specific to the production of a commodity or sector.
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