Child labour: none of our business?

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Child labour

In early March, I was in Geneva representing ABN AMRO at the International Labour Organisation (ILO) for a meeting of the Child Labour Platform. Why is this an important issue for a bank?

We obviously refuse to finance activities that directly involve child labour Maria Anne van Dijk Maria Anne van Dijk Head of Environmental Social & Ethical Risk & Policy

The facts
Some 168 million children worldwide work. That’s a whopping one in eleven children, and in Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa it’s even one in five! We’re not talking about helping out on the farm once in a while, but about performing mandatory (paid) work and being unable to attend school. More than 50% of these children do dangerous work, such as carrying heavy loads, working in mines or operating dangerous machinery. Most child labour (nearly 60%) takes place in the agriculture sector; sugar, cocoa and cotton production are well-known examples. The Ivory Coast, Brazil and India are countries with severe child labour problems.

Our responsibility
Companies like Mars and Coca-Cola are working to reduce child labour in the cocoa and sugar industries, tackling their own and others’ production processes. Many of ABN AMRO’s customers are cocoa, sugar, coffee and cotton traders. They, too, are working to fight child labour in their chains and shared their experiences at the Geneva meeting.

The United Nations introduced stricter human rights responsibilities for companies in 2011 and laid down these agreements in the OECD guidelines for multinationals. Companies are ‘required’ to explore ways to prevent human rights abuses in their business operations, products and services. The latter is particularly important to ABN AMRO. Banks can be connected to human rights violations, such as child labour, without being directly involved in these practices, for example by serving business partners who contribute to or initiate these abuses. We finance sectors that have serious social problems. We obviously refuse to finance activities that directly involve child labour, but we must keep exploring whether we are indirectly connected to this practice. To do so, we need our external stakeholders.

It is easier to track down, understand and solve human rights violations together with other organisations and multinationals. That’s why banks are regularly encouraged to talk about child labour – and why, needless to say, ABN AMRO eagerly participates in this discussion.

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