GENEVA — Indian anti-child labor campaigner and 2014 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Kailash Satyarthi on Friday called for greater oversight of production chains in poor countries, and for strengthening of national labor inspectorates, as part of global efforts to stem the exploitation of children.
“The new ways of supply and production have made the life of children, and women, quite complicated, especially when the supply chains look for the cheap and docile labor, and they are normally the women and children” Satyarthi said on the sidelines of the International Labor Organization’s annual conference here.
In the production chains everywhere in the developing world, he said, one can see children being exploited; sometimes they are trafficked, and held in bondage, “so it’s the responsibility of the brands and the big companies, the corporate sector, to ensure child labor is not involved in it,” he said.
Satyarthi, 61, who for more than three decades has acted through his organization Banchpan Bachao Andolan to protect over 83,000 children in 144 countries , acknowledged it is not easy, and added, “which is why we have to think of much more transparency in supply chains, much more legal, and moral obligations, in the supply side management, to ensure that no child labor is involved in it.”
But he also noted there are companies working toward progress.
“Of course, there are companies, there are brands, that are totally against child labor and we must encourage them. We have to credit them for that, and we should use their examples for scaling-up and multiplication in their own industries.”
Consumers also have played an important role.
“Consumers started demanding a child labor-free garment or a child labor-free football, or shoes, and that started with the child free rugs or carpets — I humbly played some role in devising the idea of holding corporations responsible and accountable about 25 years ago and involving consumers,” he said. “How the consumers’ power could be translated into change in the behaviour of the corporate sector and that started with the carpet industry in India, Pakistan and Nepal, so that has been helpful.”
Satyarthi suggested the labor inspectorate systems of countries have to be more capable, have more resources and be more professional, and they have to be strengthened.
“There’s a legal aspect in it. Child labor is not only simply a development issue, or a corporate or business issue, it’s a crime. So, when the crime has to be dealt with, it has to be dealt with by police inspectors, by labor inspectors, or any other inspectorate system of the state. So, that has to be empowered,” he said.
That also requires, he said, the system to work more honestly, genuinely and not be influenced by vested interests or force.
On a brighter note, Satyarthi said, “We can definitely acknowledge that the number of child laborers in the world has gone down significantly over the last two decades.”
What is needed now , he said, is a sense of urgency , in dealing with all forms of violence against children.
“For me, child labor is violence against children… Denial of education is violence against children.”
Earlier, he told delegates to the ILO conference: “While there is progress being made, we can not be complacent. There are still 168 million child laborers, more than half in worst forms that cannot wait.”
Since the late 1990s, Satyarthi said, there are nearly 82 million fewer child laborers. The decline has been due to a combination of factors, including the important role played by the ILO’s international program on the elimination of child labor (IPEC), the emergence of civil society, and trade unions on the ground have been very powerful in a number of countries in raising the issue on behalf of children.