2021 is the International Year for the Elimination of Child Labour

160 million children are still subject to child labour today. Children should be in school, not at work. No child should be deprived of a childhood, safety, health or education. Child labour has no place in our society, and companies have a duty to stop child labour. It is time to accelerate the pace of progress and for business to take practical actions to help eliminate child labour for good.

Ending child labour and all forms of forced and compulsory labour is integral to the Ten Principles of the UN Global Compact. Our participating companies are committed to stopping these abuses, however, most companies have not yet moved beyond policy commitments to take concrete actions to end child labour and forced labour. A wide gap between business aspiration and business action persists. 

The UN Global Compact 2021 Action Pledge on eliminating child labour reflects our commitment to work with our participants and engage actively with all relevant stakeholders to step up efforts to help end the scourge of child labour and forced labour. We wish to inspire companies by sharing good practices and mobilizing them to translate business aspirations into business actions. 

Central to this is our call to companies to step up their due diligence on human rights and to identify, prevent, mitigate and account for all adverse human rights impacts in their operations and value chains, which will help tackle child labour and forced labour. Making a real impact will require adopting a holistic approach and collaborating with all stakeholders. Your company can make a difference by taking action to end child labour for good. Read more about our pledge here.

What actions can business take?

Companies are sometimes indirectly involved in child labour — without even knowing it. The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs), the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises and the Tripartite Declaration of Principles concerning Multinational Enterprises and Social Policy (MNE Declaration) are internationally agreed guidelines that can help businesses eliminate child labour. According to these guidelines, companies should carry out human rights due diligence in their supply chains to identify, prevent, mitigate and account for how they address actual and potential adverse human rights impacts in their own operations, their supply chain and other business relationships, which will help tackle child labour and forced labour.

Companies of all sizes and from all sectors can take specific actions that contribute to ending child labour in their operations and supply chains. Supporting educational and apprenticeship programmes for the next generation and joining forces with other companies to ensure sustainable progress is made will be crucial to achieving impact at scale. Examples of possible actions include:

  • Establish management procedures for introducing child labour due diligence in business operations
  • Develop guidance on due diligence, remediation and monitoring, using best practice from a multi-stakeholder approach
  • Comply with industry codes, local law or international standards — whichever provides the higher protection for children
  • Establish an apprenticeship programme to reduce the rate of hazardous child labour in the 15–17 age group by offering a decent work alternative
  • Join a multi-stakeholder initiative such as the UN Global Compact Decent Work in Global Supply Chains Action Platform and/or an “International Framework Agreement” with one of the sectoral global unions
  • Join the ILO Child Labour Platform
  • Watch and share the call to action video here

Updates and Events
  • To commemorate the International Year for the Elimination of Child Labour, Global Compact Network UK and Global Compact Network USA are launching the Elimination of Child Labour webinar series. Learn more and register here.
  • 10–16 June: World Day Against Child Labour 2021 was celebrated over 7 Days of Action that included the launch of the new ILO/UNICEF global estimates on child labour. To see these estimates and read a stocktaking of where we stand in the global effort to end child labour, read the new report, Child Labour: Global estimates 2020, trends and the road forward, here.
  • 16 June: The UN Global Compact Leaders Summit 2021 featured a high-level session on global leadership to end child labour. Watch the recording here.

Why should my company tackle child labour?

  • The latest global estimates indicate that 160 million children – 63 million girls and 97 million boys — were in child labour globally at the beginning of 2020, accounting for almost one in ten of all children worldwide. This is an increase of 8.4 million children in the last four years — with millions more at risk due to the impacts of COVID-19. Seventy-nine million children — nearly half of all those in child labour — were in hazardous work that directly endangers their health, safety and moral development. This is a rise of 6.5 million since 2016.
  • There is a significant rise in the number of children aged five to 11 years in child labour, who now account for just over half of the total global figure (55.8% or 89.3 million). Meanwhile, 35.6 million (22.3%) are 12 to 14 years old, and 35 million (21.9%) are 15 to 17 years old. 
  • Sub-Saharan Africa stands out as the region with the highest prevalence and largest number of children in child labour (86.6 million), 26.3 million in Central and Southern Asia, 24.3 million in Eastern and South-Eastern Asia, 10.1 million in Northern Africa and Western Asia, 8.2 million in Latin America and the Caribbean and 3.8 million in Europe and Northern America. 
  • In terms of prevalence, one in five children in Africa (21.6%) are in child labour (with 23.9% in Sub-Saharan Africa), 5.5% in Central and Southern Asia, 6.2% in Eastern and South-Eastern Asia, 7.8% in Northern Africa and Western Asia, 6.0% in Latin America and the Caribbean and 2.3% in Europe and Northern America.
  • The agriculture sector accounts for 70% of children in child labour (112 million) followed by 20% in services (31.4 million) and 10 % in industry (16.5 million).
  • Nearly 28% of children aged 5 to 11 years and 35% of children aged 12 to 14 years in child labour are out of school.
  • Child labour is more prevalent among boys than girls at every age. When household chores performed for 21 hours or more each week are taken into account, the gender gap in child labour narrows.
  • The prevalence of child labour in rural areas (14%) is close to three times higher than in urban areas (5%). Most children in child labour work within their own family unit (72.1%).
  • Globally, nine million additional children are at risk of being pushed into child labour by the end of 2022 as a result of the pandemic. A simulation model shows this number could rise to 46 million if they don’t have access to critical social protection coverage. Child labour is very much related to poverty — in fact, the ILO and UNICEF report that a 1 percentage point rise in poverty leads to at least a 0.7 percentage point increase in child labour. Combating child labour helps to create more jobs and better wages for adults and thus also helps to alleviate poverty.

Contacts

Griet Cattaert
Head of Labour Rights
cattaert@unglobalcompact.org

Mari-lou Dupont
Senior Manager, Decent Work and Social Sustainability
dupont@unglobalcompact.org

Colleen Connors
Senior Manager, Human Rights and Decent Work
connors@unglobalcompact.org

What else can you do

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