Child Labour in Supply Chains – A Call for Urgent Action by Stakeholders


New Delhi: Centre for Responsible Business’s (CRB) annual flagship conference ‘India and Sustainability Standards (ISS): International Dialogues and Conference’ convened international and Indian businesses, policymakers and all stakeholders to dialogue and develop roadmaps across issues and industry sectors – in supporting the momentum towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

On day two of the 3-day summit, plenary partners Save the Children hosted an imperative dialogue to address the issue of child labour in apparel supply chains. 

Co-hosted by UNICEF, the plenary session on Making Child Rights and Business Principles (CRBP) a Reality: Creating Child-Labour Free Supply Chains,  was moderated by Anindit Roy Chowdhury, Chief of Programmes, Save the Children India and had esteemed guests like Viraf Mehta, Senior Advisor & Member of the National Voluntary Guidelines for the Economic, Social and Environmental Responsibilities of Business (NVGs) for Ministry of Corporate Affairs, Government of India, Ranjeeb Sarma, Head of Compliance, CSR and Plan, Marks and Spencer India, Manoj Bhatt, CEO- Tri-Impact, Geetanjali Master, Partnerships Specialist, UNICEF,  Ariz Khan – Child Participant (earlier employed in a garment supply chain in New Delhi) and Sandra Claassen – Director, ARISA – Advocating Rights in South Asia.

The aim of this conference is to advance the best business practices while acknowledging the enormous benefits received by the organizations in the past. Developed by Save the Children, UNICEF, and the UN Global Compact– the Children’s Rights and Business Principles laid out 10 principles to guide companies on the full range of actions they can take in the workplace, marketplace, and community to respect and support children’s rights. However, despite decades of efforts and numerous initiatives to improve labour practices in apparel supply chains, child rights violations (in form of child labour) continue to be rampant in low-cost countries. Increasing pressure from advocacy groups, financial analysts, and the media to address such incidents has led brands, NGOs, and third-party certification bodies to develop a plethora of diverse auditing programs that vary in terms of goals, scope, and commitment.

Introducing Child Rights & Business Principles, Anindit Roy Chowdhury, Chief Programme Officer, Save the Children, India said, “This year is the 10th year anniversary of Child Rights and Business Principles that was created by Save the Children, UNICEF and UN Global Compact (UNGC), but commemorating it is not going to be enough. We need to create functional and equitable collaboratives between businesses, civil society organisations, governments, and children themselves, that promote business practices that value and ensure child rights. It is critical that we all work in partnership in addressing the various nuances of child rights in business supply chains and processes. Also, businesses cannot be looked at as the source of the problem, and therefore making them responsible through dialogue, capacity development and collaboration is the critical way forward.”

Adding to the dynamics of partnership Viraf Mehta, Senior Advisor CRB, B&HR Expert “Partnership is just not an association, it implies collaborationin which we have a common goal and have shared risks and responsibilities. When you bring businesses and CSOs, there is an assumption that we are working on a rights-based mechanism. The Human rights approach is not about charity, it is about entitlement as a person and that they are actionable and justiciable.”

Geetanjali Master, Partnership Specialist, UNICEF added “How do we as business move towards creating more gender-equal advertising and marketing because those will impact norms in society and when society has more positive norms they’ll be far more sensitive to realising human and child rights and this partnership obviously when went to the space of creating gender guidelines, self-accessible tools by advertisers and marketers, awards, there also businesses then realising through the journey that there is a lot taking to under CRBP, in the street, and it got demystified for them, they actually start moving towards it and then there is evidence and documentation.”

The esteemed panel recommended the following points to eliminate child labour:

  1. Fulfil their responsibility to uphold the rights of children and make a commitment to respect the human rights of children
  2. Contribute to the abolition of child labour in all commercial endeavours and contractual arrangements
  3. Give young employees, parents, and caregivers respectable employment
  4. In all corporate activities and facilities, ensure that children are protected and kept safe.
  5. Ensure the safety of the goods and services, and strive to uphold the rights of children by using them.
  6. Utilize marketing and promotion that upholds and supports the rights of children.
  7. When it comes to environmental protection, property acquisition, and land usage, respect and support children’s rights.
  8. Children’s rights under security arrangements should be respected and supported.
  9. Ensure the safety of children impacted by emergencies.
  10. Bolster efforts made by the community and the government to uphold and defend children’s rights

Children are among the most marginalised and vulnerable members of society. They are rarely given a voice in community development and decision-making, even the ones that impact them directly. However, when given the chance to participate, they can offer crucial alternate ideas and make critical contributions. There are numerous ways in which business operations affect children, either directly or indirectly. This comprises their general business operations, such as their goods and services, marketing strategies, and distribution procedures, as well as their interactions with the federal, State, and local governments and their investments in local communities. It is about time to change our mindsets that rather than getting the work done by the children, working for the children is the long-term investment that creates well-educated communities that play a key role in creating an inclusive and sustainable business environment.