- Little to no progress has been made to eliminate child labor, and in some cases the practice has worsened across 198 countries since 2016, according to Verisk Maplecroft, a global risk analysis and consulting firm, which released its Child Labour Index this week.
- The 10 worst performing countries were led by North Korea, followed by Somalia, South Sudan and other East African nations where children are frequently employed in the agricultural and mining industries. China and India remain high-risk manufacturing countries as well, ranking 98th and 47th respectively, with little demonstrable progress shown despite experiencing significant economic growth in recent years.
- Southeast Asian countries like Bangladesh (ranked 44th) and Vietnam (81st), which many U.S. tariff-affected companies are currently looking to in order to pivot away from China, continue to rank poorly while some, like Cambodia, have fallen into the index's "extreme risk" category.
Companies with increasingly global supply chains are at risk of being wittingly or unwittingly complicit in the human rights and child labor abuses ongoing in the international factories they employ.
While some of the countries included in the Verisk Maplecroft report have anti-child labor programs or laws outright forbidding the practice, enforcement capabilities and willingness were found lacking. Furthermore, economic development in the low-ranking countries does not seem to be moving the needle on child labor.
"The economic momentum of many countries is yet to trickle down to the poorest in society and any meaningful headway on labour rights issues, including child labour, remains elusive," said Oscar Larsson, Human Rights Data Analyst at Verisk Maplecroft, in a statement.
As a result, the report found little progress has been made and some countries have even regressed as economic growth and closer involvement with global supply chains increased demand for cheap labor.
According to the report, the agri-business, apparel, consumer goods, logistics, tourism and transportation industries are particularly at risk for involving harmful working conditions, health risks, sex trafficking and slavery in the high-poverty countries where global firms tend to look for cheap labor. These risks are generally heightened by local norms that can view child labor as a necessity, a lack of compulsory education, or governments that have lax enforcement of child labor and human rights laws.
The report cites an International Labour Organization (ILO) estimate that 168 million children under 14 are currently working worldwide, many full-time, and 85 million of them do so in hazardous conditions.
There are a variety of ILO and United Nations conventions that address child labor and many countries, the U.S. included, have laws prohibiting the practice. However, the report said for supply chains operating in areas where families rely on their children to help bring in income, banning all forms of child labor outright may actually render minors more vulnerable to exploitation.
The authors suggest firms, if ending child labor cannot be fully guaranteed, implement "responsible work practices allowing children to work [if necessary] in line with international guidelines" as a means of taking responsibility for working conditions in their supply chains.
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