21 January, 2019

SDG 8 Target 7 – Eliminate forced and child labour

Child worker
by Ian Brown, Fairtrade Canada

It’s a crucial moment for Canada in the fight against child labour and modern slavery. 

The federal government is reviewing a report that calls for a new law that will prompt businesses to take pro-active measures to monitor, report on, and eliminate the use of modern slavery and child labour in their global supply chains. The government is preparing a formal response to decide if they will introduce legislation in Canada, similar to that already in place in a number of other countries. Please sign this petition to tell the government that you support this legislation.

Image above shows a child worker harvesting coffee on a non-Fairtrade certified farm in El Salvador. Photo by Terry Chemij.

To encourage your support, we present, as part of our series of posts on the Sustainable Development Goals, this special blog on SDG 8, Target 7, which states: Take immediate and effective measures to eradicate forced labour, end modern slavery and human trafficking and secure the prohibition and elimination of the worst forms of child labour, including recruitment and use of child soldiers, and by 2025 end child labour in all its forms.

The Fairtrade Fight Against Child Labour

The global Fairtrade system follows industry-leading Standards that prohibit child and forced labour.

In order to address human rights abuses such as child and forced labour, it is critical that we tackle the often complex root causes of these issues, such as systemic poverty and long-standing exploitative labour practices. To accomplish this, Fairtrade Standards take a holistic, child-centered approach in addressing the challenges that can lead to child labour.

The Standards for Small Producer Organizations (small-scale farms for products like coffee and cocoa) and Hired Labour (sometimes on plantations for products like tea and bananas) specifically state:

  • Children below the age of 15 are not to be employed by Fairtrade organizations either directly or indirectly.
  • Children below the age of 18 cannot undertake in work that jeopardises schooling or the social, moral or physical development of the person
  • Children are only allowed to help on family farms under strict conditions. The work must be age appropriate and be done outside of school hours or during holidays.

Fairtrade's Child Labour and Forced Labour Guidelines serve as operational steps to be followed by Fairtrade producer organization and processors within their own operations. You can learn more about this Fairtrade International program area here.

The Fairtrade Premium, an additional amount paid on top of the Fairtrade price for commodities, is often spent on education and other programs to benefit children. Here we see Diana Hernadez Bojato at a school in Peru that was funded by the Fairtrade Premium. Photo by Linus Hallgren.

Diana Hernadez Bojato

Despite the Standards, infractions do occasionally occur; however, when such cases arise, Fairtrade’s response is always swift, open, and effective. In 2015, an independent audit found children working on Fairtrade sugar farms in Belize.  Fairtrade challenged the Belize Sugarcane Farmers Association to put in place an ambitious program to identify and withdraw children who were already engaged in unacceptable work and to take longer-term measures to minimize the risk of it happening again. Their innovative methods influenced national government policy and in 2017 the Ministry of Labour announced several measures to eliminate child labour in the country. Read more in this blog post from our friends at Fairtrade America.

Helping Businesses and Consumers Make Informed Choices

Here at home, Fairtrade Canada has been helping Canadian companies source Fairtrade goods that meet these strict Standards. For small and medium-sized businesses, managing and monitoring their supply chains can be daunting if not nearly impossible. Yet many Canadian companies are committed to the triple bottom line of people, planet, and profit. For companies who want to ensure they are doing due diligence on human rights abuses in their supply chain, Fairtrade Certification is a great way to support those goals.

For Canadian consumers worried about buying products at high risk of human rights abuses, looking for the FAIRTRADE Mark on packaging is a simple way to know that the products you are buying come from ethical supply chains. We believe that Canadian consumers have a right to make informed decision about where their products are coming from, who made them, and that they were free of human rights abuses. This is why we are so passionate about ensuring supply chain legislation becomes a reality here in Canada.

Taking Action in Canada to End Child Labour

We are getting loud on this issue! Fairtrade Canada appeared before the SDIR Committee that produced the report to present on supply chain management and make recommendations on how to ensure human rights due diligence.

Our organization, along with a coalition of NGOs like World Vision Canada, UNICEF Canada, and Save the Children Canada, signed a letter to key MPs encouraging them to lead the promotion of responsible business practices and human rights by committing to supply chain legislation.

Julie Francoeur, Fairtrade Canada’s Executive Director, has written a number of pieces on the issue as well as what effective legislation would look like. If you missed these articles, you can read the Toronto Star and the Policy Options to gain more insight on what we are asking for.

We are getting loud and we hope you will too. Your voice has the power to influence their decision – please join thousands of other Canadians and sign the petition to demand supply chain legislation to prevent child labour and modern slavery. Thank you for your support!

Target 7 is just one facet of SDG 8 – we’ll have a more in-depth blog post about the other aspects later in the year.