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Paving the way to stop child labour in global supply chains: unlocking the evidence for action

Child labour threatens the well-being and development of an estimated 160 million children worldwide. Despite increasing efforts to address the problem, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) reports that the number of children in child labour increased between 2016 and 2020. Most of them are involved in agriculture including the production of global commodities such as cocoa, coffee and cotton.

Trading and processing companies have been working together with farmer organisations, local governments and civil society organisations to eradicate child labour from their value chain. Initiatives to decrease child labour include increasing farmers income through improved productivity or supporting them to take up new income generating activities. However, by increasing the households’ demand for labour to achieve these new activities, these interventions in fact risk increasing child labour.

Child labour in the cocoa sector

In February, KIT organised a session at the Amsterdam Cocoa Week to discuss this problem with representatives from the cocoa sector. Child labour is especially pertinent in the cocoa sector. In West-Africa, where the bulk of the world’s cocoa is produced, approximately 45% of children in cocoa producing households are involved in child labour. The session was oversubscribed, with senior and technical experts from across the sector, demonstrating the collective sense of urgency and momentum to address and solve this issue for millions of children.

Our senior advisor Oumou Diallo and International Cocoa Initiative (ICI) researcher Megan Passey presented the latest evidence on the relation between income and child labour. KIT research shows that households closest to the living income benchmark have the highest probability of their children being involved in child labour. This means that only after reaching a decent standard of living, the risk of child labour decreases. KIT is currently exploring this relationship further, studying how intensification and diversification programmes affect child labour risks.

The presentations were followed by a panel discussion with Julie McBride from Tony’s Open Chain and Carlos Muñoz Rodriguez from ECOM Agroindustrial Corporation Ltd. on the implications for practice. In a lively exchange with the audience, they discussed ways to safeguard against the adverse risks of child labour. They concluded that a combination of interventions such as (subsidised) labour provision, child labour monitoring and remediation and cash transfers are promising with high potential, but more evidence is needed to understand what works in which contexts. Because of the sensitivity of the issue, organisations are reluctant to report on child labour, especially on what does not work. This hampers learning within the sector.

Developing a child labour research programme

As a follow-up on this session, KIT is developing a child labour research programme. As a knowledge for implementation partner, KIT is already working with partners in several sectors (cocoa, coffee, cashew) to test the potential of interventions such as labour saving technologies, cash transfers and school improvements. KITs ambition is to facilitate, increase and improve open learning across sectors to develop more effective interventions. We believe that open learning and knowledge sharing is key to address child labour at scale.

We are always open for conversation. If your organisation is working on innovative ways to address child labour, do not hesitate to reach out to our Selma van der Haar, coordinator of the programme.

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