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Promoting the Rights of Every Child

Company: IKEA
Sector: General Retailers
Headquarters: The Netherlands
Partners: UNICEF
Partnership location: India

Background

There are more than 200 million children engaged in child labour today. Combating child labour is particularly difficult because it cannot be eliminated by simply removing a child from work at one factory, or terminating a supplier’s contract, since children then often moves on to a different employer and the supplier move on to different customers. The complexity of this problem makes it difficult for companies to address alone. In the past 20 years, many multinational corporations including IKEA developed and diversified their supply sources in Asia and other developing countries. In the early 90’s, increased attention was given to the risk of child labour in the supply chains of multinational corporations. With IKEA’s purchasing in developing countries growing, IKEA has sought ways to partner with others to be part of the solution.

Actions Taken 

In 2000, IKEA joined forces with UNICEF in India to help prevent and eliminate child labour in ‘the carpet belt’ in the state of Uttar Pradesh, the country’s largest, most populous state, where a high level of child labour is known to exist. IKEA sources many of its carpets from Uttar Pradesh suppliers, and decided to partner with UNICEF because of the focus on prevention strategies rather than rehabilitation. Both parties are convinced that child labour is best tackled by addressing root causes, such as indebtedness in marginalized communities, adult unemployment, poverty, disability and ill health, and children’s lack of access to quality primary education.
The concrete project is focused on creating awareness and mobilizing these rural communities around strategies designed to prevent child labour. School enrolment drives have been conducted to enroll children into primary school, as well as the establishment of alternative learning centres (ALCs) as a transitional measure to formal mainstream primary schooling. Quality educational opportunities are essential to prevent child labour. The IKEA initiative complements the government’s efforts to enroll all six to twelve year olds in the project area into primary school. The burden of debt, often accrued over generations, is a root cause for families feeling compelled to put their children to work. As of late 2006, IKEA had helped to establish 1,600 women’s self-help groups in Uttar Pradesh, reaching almost 22,000 women. Through these groups women learn about children’s rights, health and nutrition, saving money, and starting up a small business in order to get rid of debts and contribute income to their families. IKEA launched a further step with the self-help groups in 2005. As a strategy for economic empowerment, women from the groups earn income for embroidering cushions that are sold in IKEA stores.

Benefits 

The child rights project in Uttar Pradesh has grown to cover a population of more than a million, of whom nearly 35 per cent are children under the age of 14, living in 500 villages across eastern Uttar Pradesh with intensive carpet fabricating activity. As a result of the school enrolment drives and the ALCs, more than 80,000 children previously out of school can attend primary school.
IKEA and UNICEF will continue the project in the coming years, adding on villages in a planned manner to reach millions more in the region. The self-help strategy has boosted women’s economic and social status, self-confidence and decision-making abilities, both within their families and in the local community. Through education and economic opportunity, women and their families have broken out of the vicious circle of debt, liberating them from child labour and the exploitative interest rates of local money-lenders. A simple economic intervention has engendered significant social impact on the quality of life of children and women, and improving their access to income-generating opportunities. IKEA’s partnership with UNICEF has allowed the company to achieve its business objectives while supporting children and women and their opportunities for learning and developing. Although it cannot be quantified for the bottom line, IKEA’s actions have built trust, a significant intangible asset, within the communities it touches.

(Source: An Inspirational Guide to implementing the United Nations Global Compact, UNGCO 2007).

(Last Update: 2 January 2009)