Climate change will push more children into work

A new study has identified the key emerging economies that supply the world with manufactured goods and natural resources, and that are fueling the global economic recovery, have the worst record of underage workers within their labour markets.

The Child Labour Index and map, produced by Maplecroft, rates 68 countries as ‘extreme risk’ with Bangladesh, China, India, Nigeria and Pakistan amongst those with the most widespread abuses of child workers.

The index evaluates 196 countries on the prevalence, gravity and impunity of child labour under the age of 15 that is defined as work that directly or indirectly limits or damages a child’s physical, mental, social or psychological development. Maplecroft has developed the index guided by relevant ILO conventions on child labour[1] to enable companies to identify and evaluate risks relating to child labour within their supply chains, operations and distribution networks. Maplecroft also recognises the vulnerability of 15-18 year olds whose work is illegal under international law[2] if it is hazardous to health and well-being and captures this within this index if the datasets are available.

Bangladesh, India, Nigeria and Pakistan all scored 0.00 out of a possible 10, along with Chad, DR Congo, Ethiopia, Liberia, Myanmar, Somalia, Sudan and Zimbabwe to form the 12 countries at the bottom of the ranking, whilst China scored 0.02 and ranked 13th.

Both India and China recently featured in damaging revelations for an international fashion chain, where suppliers used by the company were found to be employing children for less than the minimum wage; however, it is the rural sector where 70% of child labour is found. “These large emerging economies are essential to the strategic interests of multinational business as they constitute a primary source for raw materials and manufactured goods,” said Monique Bianchi, Principal Analyst at Maplecroft. “Not only is child labour wrong, but the existence of child labour within a company’s value chain can have significant impacts on reputation and profits and it is critical that companies undertake stringent monitoring of all suppliers.”

India, ranked joint 1st in the index, is crucial not only to the textile sector, but also to the mining, and ICT industries amongst others. According to the latest government figures, India is home to 14 to 16.4 million child workers. However, these estimates are widely disputed and the US State Department puts the figure closer to 55 million. Child labour is most prominent in rural areas, particularly in the agricultural sector, including in hybrid seed production, where UNICEF estimates that private companies employ 200,000 children in Andhra Pradesh alone. Indian NGO, Bachpan Bachao Andolan, also reported in 2009 that children as young as 6-8 years old were found to be working in mines in Jharkhand and Bihar, which were extracting mica for export to the global cosmetics industry.

China now features in the supply chains of most multinational companies and Maplecroft advises businesses to be aware that child labour is prevalent throughout the country. Although there are no official statistics on the use of child labour in China, as the government classifies such statistics as ‘state secrets’, it is thought there are between 10 and 20 million underage workers. According to Maplecroft, companies working with suppliers in the textile, electronics and manufacturing sectors are particularly vulnerable to the risk of complicity with labour rights violations.

Other emerging economies categorised as ‘extreme risk’ and of primary concern to business are: Indonesia (18), Egypt (29), Philippines (34), Iran (36), Vietnam (38), Brazil (45) and Mexico (62).

Maplecroft’s research underlines the fact that the issue of child labour is often symptomatic of a range of underlying structural problems in a country, including poverty and a lack of access to education. This is seen most widely in Africa, where 31 countries are rated ‘extreme risk’ and children often work in farming, artisanal mining and in family enterprises. The ILO reports that 41% of the children in Africa are economically active with 30% of children between 10 and 14 working in agriculture.

Vulnerability to the impacts of climate change will also contribute to increasing rates of child labour, according to Maplecroft’s CEO, Professor Alyson Warhurst: “Drought and deforestation result in more work for children, as they must travel greater distances to gather water and fuel for farming purposes; whilst more frequent and severe climate related disasters will lead to raised levels of poverty, forcing children from education and into the workforce to support their families.”