29 Nov 2019

Youth drive positive change in Fairtrade sugar-cane growing communities

A new independent study shows strong progress in applying Fairtrade’s rights-based approach to tackling child labour in Belize’s sugarcane growing communities. But for the approach to be sustainable and effective in the long term, all actors must step up and play their part.

Photo of a YICBMR mapping exercise c Fairtrade

The study, commissioned by Fairtrade International, assesses the work undertaken by the Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association (BSCFA) to establish a Youth Inclusive Community-Based Monitoring and Remediation System on Child Labour (YICBMR). The approach was first piloted by the organization in 2015, and has since expanded to cover all of BSCFA’s sugar growing areas.

Photo of community signs c Fairtrade

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. Eighteen Fairtrade producer organizations in 11 countries have piloted the approach so far.

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. Read more

More than 60 people took part in the research, including community members, cooperative staff, and representatives from government, industry, NGOs and Fairtrade.

The YICBMR approach was rated very positively by the respondents, who praised BSCFA’s commitment and to address child labour and other labour abuses in sugar cane production in Belize. Interviewees described the YICBMR method as a comprehensive approach which engages different age groups in addressing child labour, not just on the farms themselves but in the whole community. Farmers and communities now talk openly about child labour and issues regarding children’s well-being.

In particular, the approach is regarded by the diverse respondents as highly successful in identifying cases of child labour and in heightening awareness of what constitutes hazardous work and abusive and exploitative labour. In sugarcane dominated Northern Belize, where many young people leave school at 14 and employment opportunities are scarce, it was considered typical for youth to find work cutting cane with a machete. The YICBMR approach enabled a steep learning curve and mind shift for farmers and the community.

Involving youth as leaders in driving the approach is another strength highlighted in the report. At BSCFA, six youth monitors were provided with part-time jobs to support the YICBMR approach. Today, five of them work with the organization in full time positions.

“At the beginning the organization was hesitant about getting young people involved, as the board thought we needed people with more experience. But we realised that the young people in the communities feel more comfortable with them: the interaction is better and they are less likely to hold back than with older people”, explains Zune Canche, Senior accountant and protection focal point at BSCFA.

Work still remains – BSCFA and Fairtrade working with government to drive change

Despite these successes, challenges remain and the report identified areas for improvement.

While there has been much success in identifying and reporting on cases of child labour to the national protection agency, the subsequent follow-up and remediation remain an issue. Government resources in this area have been stretched to date. BSCFA has raised the government’s awareness and campaigned for better legislation and action on addressing child labour in Belize. Zune Canche, representing Fairtrade producers, was subsequently asked to join the government’s advisory board to input into the country’s child labour hazardous list (specifying which work is prohibited for under 18 year olds). A recent US Department of Labour report recognised the efforts of BSCFA and noted that it seems that sugarcane is the only agricultural product for which the Belize government currently has programs to reduce child labour.

Fairtrade International CEO, Dario Soto Abril, met last week with Belize’s Minister of Human Development and BSCFA, to discuss some of the challenges around the long-term safety of children withdrawn from child labour. A proposal was made to set up a working group with the Ministry of Human Development, Education, Health, and the Police, as well as BSCFA. Together they will develop a plan of action to include follow-up on reported cases of child labour, enhanced police presence and security in communities particularly risky to children’s well-being, and vocational training and education alternatives for young people.

Dario Soto Abril said: “We welcome the Belizean government’s work to invest further in protecting children and youth, and in preventing child labor and exploitation in the Belize sugar cane industry. While BSCFA, together with other Fairtrade sugar cane producer groups in Belize have been driving this work, it is clear that they cannot solve the problem on their own. Government, industry, law enforcement and the local communities all need to play their part. We look forward to continuing to work together with the government and industry to move closer towards a safe and sustainable future for all children and young people in Belize.”

Fairtrade will also conduct further research into our YICBMR approach in 2020, examining its impact on different producer organizations currently implementing it globally, as well as comparing it to other methods used by Fairtrade producers to address child labour in cocoa and sugar cane.

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