12 Jun 2022

It's time to talk about child labour

29944 Bananas Dominican Republic 2020 childwithbook 870
The Fairtrade Premium funds a homework room for children of banana farmers and workers in a Fairtrade cooperative's community in the Dominican Republic.
Fairtrade / José García

160 million. That’s the number of children worldwide estimated to be in child labour. And it’s a number that has grown since 2016, according to the United Nations.

There’s no doubt that child labour is the silent scourge of our global economy and a product of an unjust global trade ecosystem. And there’s no doubt that child labour is the result of deep-rooted systemic problems, particularly endemic poverty.

But while Fairtrade continues to lay the groundwork in the fight against economic inequality, the grim reality is that COVID-19, climate change, and rising inflation are making smallholder farmers’ livelihoods increasingly tenuous.

Many of those farmers are now at a breaking point. And the additional economic instability for already fragile communities means more children may be forced into child labour by the end of 2022.

No parent wants their child to work rather than go to school. But the reality of the daily struggle to make ends meet is stark, especially for smallholder farmers.

These are the communities that Fairtrade is committed to working for. However, we cannot do it alone.

So here’s the straight-talk: if we’re going to be serious about ending child labour, then everyone in the supply chain – from consumers and retailers to traders and cooperatives – must do their part.

That means traders and buyers must pay higher prices to smallholder farmers that will support a living income.

It means retailers, traders, and buyers of coffee, cocoa, bananas, and other commodities must do more to finance and support smallholder farmers in modernizing their farms and in adapting to climate change.

It means consumers must drive demand for fair products so cooperatives can increase their Fairtrade sales and pass the benefits on to their farmers and workers.

It means governments must take legislative action to protect young people and minors and ensure their rights, including building adequate educational facilities to serve them and their communities.

And it means organizations like Fairtrade must accelerate our on-the-ground child labour remediation efforts and boost our work in tackling deep-seated inequities affecting smallholder farmers and agricultural workers.

It’s a fact: no one organization or initiative can end child labour alone. That’s why it’s time to talk about child labour and call on all actors to step up and take action.

Because only by working together towards a future without child labour can we ensure a future that’s truly fair for all.