10 Oct 2017

Landmark cooperation agreement to fight child labour and increase well-being of girls and boys in the sugar cane sector in Paraguay

Fairtrade supports certified producer organizations and their communities to lead in tackling child labour and improving children’s lives. A new agreement between three Fairtrade certified sugar cane producer organizations in Paraguay and the Ministry of Labour, Employment and Social Security adds momentum to the efforts to combat the labour of girls and boys and improve working conditions in the country.

Sugar cane stacks in Paraguay.
Image © Didier Gentilhomme

Paraguay has made significant advancements over the last few years to eliminate the worst forms of child labour, as recognized in the U.S Department of Labor's (DOL) annual Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor. However, the country remains on the DOL lists of countries in which it believes sugar cane is produced using child labour. This is a particularly prevalent practice in rural areas where most sugar cane fields are located.

The cooperation agreement between the Ministry, represented by Minister Mr. Guillermo Sosa Flores, and the three Fairtrade producer organizations, Association Cañeros Orgánicos Asociados, Asociación Productores Independencia and Asociación Agrícola Orgánica Central, was signed during the opening of the CLAC-Fairtrade Sugar Network Meeting in Villarica, Paraguay, in September.

The agreement with the Ministry represents the culmination of the efforts initiated by Fairtrade sugar producer organization, Asociación Independencia, in 2014. Back then, concerned about possible instances of children working in sugar cane fields, this Fairtrade certified producer organization decided to go beyond Fairtrade standards compliance and step up its efforts to tackle this issue which is still taboo in the region.

The association established a due diligence and response system on child labour in two of their sugar cane producing communities, titled Youth Inclusive Community Based Monitoring and Remediation system (YICBMR). This system, developed and supported by Fairtrade International, consists of a rights-based, inclusive approach that builds on the capacity of community members, including children and young people in and around producer organizations to contribute to the identification of and response to child and/or forced labour. The pilot system was funded through the Fairtrade Premium by the Asociación Independencia, Fairtrade International and the Montclair University School of Business and supported by the Latin American and Caribbean Network of Fair Trade Small Producers and Workers (CLAC). In December 2015, Asociación Independencia, with financial support from Fairtrade America, began the second phase of the YICBMR, scaling its monitoring and response system to additional communities.

In the same year, Fairtrade International and CLAC collected information via face-to-face interviews with 120 school going girls and boys in sugar cane producing areas, to understand their involvement in family farming, issues faced in and around their schools and recommendations from them on how to enable safer environments, especially for young girls. Fairtrade International also trained the producer organization’s board members and staff on gender based violence, including ways to identify and respond to such violence, working with expert partners, including district level government agencies.

As part of this monitoring and remediation system, Asociación Independencia also began discussions with local governments, the International Labour Organization, UNICEF and civil society organizations, seeking support from other actors to address this far-reaching problem in the sugar cane sector. Fairtrade International also engaged the United States Department of Labor (USDOL) on this work.

All these efforts have now crystalized in this new cooperation agreement which lies within the framework of ‘Paraguay Okakuaa’, ("Paraguay Progresses” in Guaraní). Paraguay Okakuaa is a project led by the Ministry and funded by USDOL, aimed at supporting Paraguay in its efforts to reduce the worst forms of child labour, and improve both compliance with labour laws and working conditions. The project also aims at expanding educational and employment opportunities for the youth in Department of Guairá, where a lot of sugar cane is grown.

“Fairtrade International and CLAC recognize that it is impossible to effectively tackle an issue as far-reaching and complex as child labour without the active intervention and support of the government. This is why both Fairtrade International and CLAC have played an active role in linking sugar producer organizations in Paraguay with governmental bodies and civil society organizations to step up the efforts in the fight against child labour. Conversations with the Ministry of Labour were initiated in 2015 and the sugar cane producer organizations have worked to be a part of the cooperation agreement” stated Anita Sheth, Senior Advisor on Social Compliance and Development at Fairtrade International.

Through the cooperation agreement, the Ministry and the Fairtrade certified producer organizations commit to:

  • Contribute to the generation of strategies that promote the fight against child labour, specifically in the sugar cane supply chain in the Department of Guairá.
  • Identify capacity transfer actions that will be carried out within the framework of the reference project, and that can be assumed by the governmental institutions at the end of the project.
  • Implement successful interventions that address the problem of child labour and worst forms of child labour by means of joint actions.
  • Link the project with the National Commission for the Eradication of Child Labor (CONAETI).

"We are very happy that Government and producers are partnering. 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 join efforts towards the eradication of child labour," said Gilbert Ramírez, Sugar Coordinator from the CLAC. "The agreement in Paraguay is a very good example to be promoted at continental level. It was thus timely that the agreement was signed during the Sugar Network Meeting that reunited over 60 sugar producer representatives from more than 10 countries across Latin America and the Caribbean".

Fairtrade has been working in Paraguay since 1999. There are currently 12 Fairtrade sugar producer organizations in the country, producing more than 150,000 tons of organic sugar cane. In collaboration with our 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 we work.

Learn more about Fairtrade’s guidelines on child labour and forced labour.

For further information, please contact:
Giovanna Schmidt, Media Relations Manager, Fairtrade International, press[at]fairtrade.net
Anita Sheth, Senior Advisor Social Compliance and Development, Fairtrade International, a.sheth[at]fairtrade.net
Gilbert Ramírez, Sugar Coordinator, CLAC, gilbert.ramirez[at]clac-comerciojusto.org