Child labour and slavery are closer than you think

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Child laborer in the Chace Cotton Mill

Friday 12 June 2015 is the World Day Against Child Labour. People across the globe will turn their attention to the young people in our world who are forced to work. There are still far too many of these children, according to a report by the International Labour Organisation. Some 168 million children around the world work, six million of whom as slaves – unpaid or forced, kidnapped or taken from their families under false pretences. The battle against child labour is here and now. It’s an injustice we all must fight – including ABN AMRO.

ABN AMRO does not want to be involved in any way in the violation of children’s rights. We don’t just watch this injustice from the sidelines. Ghislaine Nadaud Ghislaine Nadaud Senior Advisor Risk, Advisory & Monitoring Sustainable Banking

Worldwide battle against child labour – it’s necessary

The main reason why some companies still use children to perform work is simple: young workers are dirt cheap. Plus, children are more submissive than experienced adults and are less likely to protest that their rights are being violated – if they are even aware of their rights at all. Children are easier prey for companies that use child labour or slavery, especially in countries lacking proper education and good jobs for adults. Worldwide investment in information and education will help fight child labour and slavery, and could eventually break the downward spiral of poverty.

You, too, are indirectly involved

You might think that child labour and slavery does not concern you, but it’s closer to home than you realise. Every day we use products that come from parts of the world where children’s rights are regularly violated. The cocoa beans in your favourite bar of chocolate, for instance, are grown in the Ivory Coast. The cotton used to produce your shirt comes from crops in India or Turkey. The tin in the smartphone that you use daily is extracted from Indonesian tin mines. All of these products are made either directly or indirectly by processes that involve child labour.

Europe isn’t much better

The demand for cheap, submissive labour in Europe is growing. Not only in ‘official’ sectors such as tourism, transport (inland), cleaning and agriculture, but also in ‘unofficial’ segments such as the sex industry, hemp growing and housekeeping. Bulgarian, Polish, Philippine, Vietnamese and Chinese children younger than 18 years old frequently do this dangerous work. The fact that they are also often illegal residents means they are ‘invisible’ to the authorities and are therefore unable to protest if their rights are being violated. Did you know that there are 3,000 child slaves in Great Britain?

Corporate responsibility policy

It’s hard for companies to trace whether and where child labour or slavery is being used. International production and supplier chains are often highly complex and lack transparency, making it impossible to get to the bottom of things. In order to banish forced labour and human trafficking, businesses need to take responsibility and collectively learn to see through the chains. Financial institutions like ABN AMRO also have to do their part. This is the conclusion of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.

New laws for fair businesses

The UN Guiding Principles, informally known as the ‘Ruggie Principles’ due to their authorship by John Ruggie, have been accepted worldwide and incorporated into the OECD and EU Guidelines. This forces companies to gradually take more responsibility, not only for their own activities, but also for the production and supplier chains within which their businesses operate. So they have to know exactly how and with whom they work. The Dutch Labour party is currently drafting a bill to prohibit the sale of products that have been manufactured with the use of child labour. Businesses suspected of failing to comply with this law will be fined and required to demonstrate that their chain is ‘clean’.

Doing nothing is not an option

ABN AMRO does not want to be involved in any way in the violation of children’s rights. We don’t just watch this injustice from the sidelines. As part of our sustainability policy, we do not buy anything we suspect was produced with the use of child labour or slavery. Child labour and slavery are also on the list of activities we never finance. If a potential client fails to meet our requirements in this area, we do not do business with that client – period.

Together we are strong

To assess whether a company is either directly or indirectly involved in the violation of children’s rights, we need to get a clear picture of the entire chain. To do so, we engage all of our stakeholders in an ongoing dialogue. Non-governmental organisations (NGOs), governments, trade unions, industry associations and human rights experts with knowledge, experience and a valuable network are all vital for bringing production and supplier chains into focus.

Together with our stakeholders on the same course

ABN AMRO is firmly committed to fighting child labour and slavery. We engage in an ongoing dialogue with various parties to discover how we can make a difference. The government plays an important role: its job is to make sure that children’s rights are not violated and laws are complied with. At the same time, it’s the responsibility of business to respect human rights now, so that ultimately the course is changed for the better. ABN AMRO is in a position to encourage that behaviour. Earlier this month, we co-organised an Expert Roundtable on human trafficking, initiated by Global Justice. We explored with different stakeholders how we can work together to fight human trafficking. Our goal is a world free from child labour. Our contribution is something that cannot be expressed in terms of money.

Photo: Jo Bodeon, a child laborer in the Chace Cotton Mill of Burlington, Vermont worked in the spinning mule room. (May 1909)

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