9 Mar 2017

Fairtrade Applauds Efforts to Step Up the Fight Against Child Labour in Belize

The government of Belize has taken action to address child labour in the country, thanks in part to the advocacy efforts and targeted public awareness campaigns by the Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association (BSCFA).

BSCFA, a Fairtrade sugar cane producer association, has been running Fairtrade International’s Youth-Inclusive Community Based Monitoring and Remediation system to tackle child labour since 2015.

Last month, Belize’s Ministry of Labour announced the activation of the following bodies: Labour Advisory Board, Tripartite Body, National Child Labour Committee, and Interest-Based Bargaining Stakeholders. The establishment of these bodies represents an important step towards safely identifying cases and remediating child labour in the country.

A 2015 report by the United States Department of Labor found that Belize had made minimal advancement in efforts to eliminate the worst forms of child labour, particularly in the agricultural sector, and that important gaps in the country’s legal framework still remained. For instance, Belize has not defined what kind of work can be undertaken at the minimum age of work (14 years). Additionally, an approved hazardous list of child labour has not been finalized as yet, including a hazardous list in the sugar cane sector.

BSCFA recognized the seriousness of addressing child labour in the sugar cane sector three years ago. At the time, Leonardo Cano, the association’s then Chairman announced their determination “to be best in class when it comes to rooting out child labour in the sugar industry.” With the support of Fairtrade International and its Latin America and Caribbean producer network (CLAC), BSCFA led and funded an ambitious program to safely identify and withdraw children who were already engaged in unacceptable work and prevent child labour in Belize’s sugarcane industry. Read more about the project and its achievements.

A call for action

However, BSCFA also recognized that it is impossible to effectively tackle an issue as far-reaching and complex as child labour without the active intervention and support of industry, civil society and more importantly, governmental agencies. So when BSCFA started its intervention program in 2015, it also issued a strong call for action to the government of Belize to step up the fight against child labour in the country. BSCFA met with various departments of the government, including the National Committee of Families and Children to share with them findings, action steps and long term plans. BSCFA also hosted with Fairtrade the first multi-stakeholder discussion on child labour in the sugar cane sector. Two years of lobbying and engaging with the government have now borne results.

"We are pleased that despite the suspension for non-compliances on child labour in 2014, and the difficult process of addressing our challenges, we are now a key driver confronting this issue in the sugar industry," said Adalid Wicab, Chairman, BSCFA Committee of Management.

"Sugar cane is the key commodity produced in north Belize. We have knocked on the doors of different government ministries and brought together industry stakeholders to discuss this complex matter that impacts the livelihoods of our farmers and their families, including children and youth."

"This announcement from the government of Belize is reaffirming; we now understand that BSCFA is not alone in tackling this challenge. We remain committed to continue working shoulder-to-shoulder with our government to make meaningful advances towards a better future for our sugar industry, including the current and future generations of children and youth. A brighter and more prosperous generation will now be possible with Belize addressing the key obstacles to ensure sustainable development, human security and increased well-being for all," concluded Mr Wicab.

"Belize continues in its efforts to adopt a rights-based approach to addressing exploitation and abuse of children and youth. This recent announcement by the Ministry of Labour shows that child rights and child protection are fundamental to the fight against child labour," said Anita Sheth, Fairtrade International’s Senior Advisor on Social Compliance and Development. "We should keep in mind that the fight against child labour is also a fight against violence against girls and boys. At Fairtrade, we are committed to continuing to work with Fairtrade producer organizations, industry, civil society and governments to ensure the well-being of children and youth in the countries where we operate. We look forward to working with the newly established bodies in Belize to support their fight against child labour across the country. A new generation of sugar cane production is possible, one in which children and youth are at the forefront not only supporting the identification and response to exploitative labour, but also recommending what needs to change for their generation to choose sugar cane production and processing as a sustainable and decent livelihood," added Anita Sheth.

CLAC endorses and is an active part of Fairtrade’s commitment towards children’s rights and children’s well-being. It provides support to producer organizations across the different countries and supply chains where it operates for the fulfilment of social compliance standards. "CLAC strongly believes that children’s rights and wellbeing are a shared responsibility between families, communities, producer organizations, companies and governmental actors and therefore we welcome all multi-stakeholder partnerships that aim to joint efforts towards the eradication of child labour," said Marike de Peña, President of the CLAC. The achievements in Belize are very good examples to be promoted at continental level. The lessons learned will enable us to implement similar programs at scale and contribute to a better future for children and youth in rural areas".

Fairtrade has been working in Belize since 2008. There are currently three Fairtrade producer organizations in the country, producing more than 1,300,000 tons of sugar cane. In collaboration with its partners, Fairtrade is actively committed to using a rights based approach to fighting the root causes of child labour and proactively preventing the abuse and exploitation of children and other vulnerable populations in the producer organizations with which it works. Read more about Fairtrade’s guidelines on child labour and forced labour.