Child labour

Worldwide 160 million children are still in child labour, according to UNICEF. Of these, 70 percent are working in agriculture. It’s a deep rooted problem that needs a holistic approach to solve.

© Fairtrade / Funnelweb Media

Child labour refers to work that is harmful to a child’s health and wellbeing, and/or interferes with their education, leisure and development. It is a complex issue, affecting boys and girls in most countries of the world.

It is estimated that 112 million children and youth work in agriculture. Many of them do not attend school, have little time to play and do not receive proper nutrition or care. Often this work can also be hazardous and exploitative. Many of the types of work girls and boys are involved in are hidden and difficult to track, suggesting that the actual number of child labourers could be much higher, especially for some girls.

The causes of child labour are multi-faceted. A lack of access to quality education, discrimination, conflict, and natural disasters, are just some of the underlying causes. Poverty however, remains the key driver. When families are not able to earn a decent living from their crops, and youth lack decent employment opportunities, ending child labour remains very difficult.

How Fairtrade addresses child labour

Fairtrade is committed to fighting the root causes of child labour and preventing abuse and exploitation of children. We have chosen to work in products and regions with known risk of child labour because this is where our work is most needed.

Fairtrade prohibits child labour as defined by the International Labour Organization (ILO) minimum age and the worst forms of child labour conventions.

Specific criteria in the Fairtrade Standards include:

  • Children below the age of 15 are not to be employed by Fairtrade organizations.

  • Children below the age of 18 cannot undertake work that jeopardises their schooling or their development.

  • 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.

  • In regions with a high likelihood of child labour, small producer organizations are encouraged to include a mitigation and elimination plan in their Fairtrade Development Plan.

  • If an organization has identified child labour as a risk, the organization must implement policy and procedures to prevent children from being employed.

No one can provide a 100 percent guarantee that a product is free of child labour. Fairtrade guarantees that if we find breaches to our child labour requirements, we take immediate action to protect the impacted child or children. We work with national child protection agencies and/or child rights organizations to ensure children’s safe remediation and long-term wellbeing. We then work with the producer organization to strengthen their programs and systems to address child labour. Failure to have adequate systems in place leads to suspension and then decertification if not addressed.

Fairtrade recognizes that standards and auditing alone will not solve child labour. We need to address the wider causes of abuse and violence against children and young people, and empower them and their communities to take action. Here are some examples of how we do this:

  • Tackling root causes of child labour such as poverty and lack of access to education.

  • Supporting Fairtrade producer communities to establish a youth-inclusive, community-based monitoring and remediation (YICBMR) system on child labour, in partnership with child rights NGOs.

  • Focus groups with young people in Fairtrade communities to find out about their education, work, future aspirations and the impact of Fairtrade on their lives.

  • Working with governments, child rights experts and NGOs to share our approach and receive their feedback.

  • Connecting companies with producers, to invest directly in tackling child labour in the communities from which they purchase Fairtrade commodities. The voluntary best practice section of Fairtrade’s Trader Standard also encourages this.

  • Advocating for government regulation that requires companies to check for and take action on child labour in their supply chains, such as human rights and environmental due diligence legislation.

Ending child labour needs everyone – farmers, consumers, businesses and governments to play their part. By purchasing Fairtrade products you are not only supporting producers to earn a better living and send their children to school, but to also tackle the underlying causes of child labour in their communities.

Putting young people and their communities in the driving seat

In our youth-inclusive approach, young people and their communities are the ones who work together to tackle the causes of child labour. Children and youth identify risks to their well-being, map where they feel safe and unsafe, and together with adults from the community, design preventive projects to respond. Producer organizations in 18 countries have piloted the approach so far, including producers of cocoa, sugarcane, gold, coffee, flowers and vanilla. Since 2016, the YICBMR system has been adapted to also cover forced adult labour and gender-based and other workplace violence and abuse.

The BSCFA sugar cane association in Belize was among the first to do so. As well as funding an ambitious program on their own farms and communities, the association also successfully advocated for the national government to step up the fight against child labour in Belize.

Fairtrade published an evaluation of the YICBMR process in Belize in 2019, and the Global Deal published a case study on the work in Belize in November 2021.

Study: Assessment of child labour monitoring and remediation systems used by Fairtrade producer organizations

We commissioned a study to compare two common types of systems used by producer organizations in finding, fixing and preventing child labour: Fairtrade International’s signature Youth-Inclusive Community-Based Monitoring and Remediation (YICBMR) system and Internal Control Systems (ICS) in four countries: Belize, Dominican Republic, Ghana and India. Both systems were compared on the six criteria established by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development: Relevance, Coherence, Effectiveness, Efficiency, Impact and Sustainability.

The researchers interviewed and conducted focus group discussions with a total of 184 producers and 122 community members, including men, women, youth and children. Other stakeholders were also interviewed. While ICS was found to be effective at monitoring child labour on farms, YICBMR was seen as better at remediation, addressing wider risks, embedding child rights, building communities’ ownership of child welfare, and strengthening local and national child protection systems. The study raises questions with regard to financial sustainability in maintaining the YICBMR system, and highlights the need for everyone, including supply chain partners and governments, to play a role in supporting such system

Read the full study.

Additional resources

Key documents

Fairtrade's Child Labour and Forced Labour guidelines

Fairtrade: Comparative Assessment of Monitoring and Remediation Systems on Child Labour as implemented by Fairtrade Small-scale Producer Organizations (2021)

Global Deal: New Good Practice case: Eliminating Child Labour: Lessons learned from Belize (Nov 2021)

Fairtrade: Evaluation of Youth Inclusive Community-Based Monitoring and Remediation System on Child Labour (YICBMR) as implemented by Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association (BSCFA) (2019)

UNODC: Global report on trafficking in persons 2018

US Department of Labor: List of goods produced by child labor or forced labor

US Department of State: 2019 Trafficking in persons report

Relevant legislation

UN Convention on the Rights of the Child

Australia: Modern slavery Law

France: Duty of Care Law

Netherlands: Child Labour Due Diligence Law

UK: Modern Slavery Act 2015

US: Business Supply Chain Transparency on Trafficking and Slavery Act of 2015

Product information

EN: CLAC and its role in the protection of vulnerable people in supply chains in Latin America and the Caribbean

ES: CLAC y su rol en la protección de personas vulnerables en las cadenas productivas en Latinoamérica y el Caribe

Contact - Latin America and Caribbean

Aída Portillo
Human Rights and Cross-Cutting Themes Coordinator, Fairtrade CLAC

Related news