South America leads battle against child labour but Russia and China lagging – Maplecroft Child Labour Index 2014

Report
from Maplecroft
Published on 17 Oct 2013

Two of the world’s largest growth markets, Russia and China, have shown significant increases in child labour risks over the last year, reveals the latest Child Labour Index from Maplecroft. This exposes companies with operations and supply chains in these countries to greater risks of reputational and legal damage from complicity with children’s rights violations.

According to Maplecroft, significant increases in child labour risks are visible in only a few countries. China dropped from the 53rd highest risk geography to 20th in the Index, while Russia fell 11 places to 69th. Both are classified as posing an ‘extreme risk.’ Substantial negative changes to the risk profiles of Nepal (14th, 34th in 2013), Guinea (30th, 36th in 2013), and Equatorial Guinea (109th, 114th in 2013) were also noted.

Maplecroft’s ranking of 197 countries includes 83 countries rated ‘extreme risk,’ with Eritrea, Somalia, DR Congo, Myanmar, Sudan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Zimbabwe, Yemen and Burundi comprising the 10 countries where the problem of child labour is greatest. Although none of these countries have shown significant improvement over the past year, Myanmar has moved from its position of 1st (as the worst performing country worldwide) in all six previous editions of the Child Labour Index, to 3rd in the 2014 Index. This reflects improving government commitments and capacities to combat child labour. However, the situation remains grave. For example, children are recruited as child soldiers by military and rebel groups to perform non-combatant tasks. In addition, children from Myanmar are increasingly vulnerable to unsafe migration and trafficking for labour exploitation, both within the country and cross border.

The Child Labour Index 2014 evaluates the frequency and severity of reported child labour incidents, as well as the performance of governments in preventing child labour and ensuring the accountability of perpetrators. It has been developed to enable companies to understand and identify risks of children being employed within their supply chains in violation of international standards on minimum age of employment or in occupations that limit or damage their overall development.

Global trafficking is an enabler of child labour - with migrant children the most vulnerable group. The problem is particularly prevalent in China and Russia, both of which have been downgraded by the US Department of State from Tier 2 Watch List to Tier 3 in its Trafficking in Persons Report 2013. This is due to the governments’ ongoing failure to comply with minimum standards, or make significant efforts to do so.

Trafficking is a critical factor in Russia’s increasing risk profile in the Child Labour Index. Inefficient law enforcement, weak institutional capacity and corruption are important contributing factors. The last 10-12 years have seen significant changes in the nature of child labour in Russia, especially among migrant children who, increasingly, are found working in shops and on construction sites. Children performing work in Russia are also often engaged in the worst forms of child labour, especially in rural areas where agricultural work may involve risks to their health, such as using dangerous machinery and harmful pesticides.

A climate of impunity endures in China due to the poor enforcement of child labour laws, exacerbated by a significant internal migrant population. Official statistics are not available, but estimates suggest that up to 100,000 children are employed in the manufacturing sector alone. The use of child labour in vocational ‘work and study’ schemes, as well as the continued employment of children in factories, present significant supply chain risks to companies even in the most economically-developed provinces.

Maplecroft’s analysis indicates that child labour risks are also increasing in Sub-Saharan Africa, which hosts 43 (over 50%) of the ‘extreme risk’ countries in the Child Labour Index.

“Africa is a significant location for foreign direct investment and has compelling growth potential,” states Lizabeth Campbell, Head of Human Rights and Societal Risk at Maplecroft. “Despite this, child labour risks are increasing in some regions of East and West Africa, such as Tanzania and Kenya in the East and Ghana and Mali in the West. This increase is due to industrial growth in a context of inadequate labour inspections, and, in some instances, a persistent lack of human security. This reinforces the need for stringent human rights due diligence programmes in both company operations and supply chains.”

However, there are signs of an improving global outlook. In September 2013, the International Labour Organization (ILO) estimated that the rate of 5–17 year-olds engaged in child labour has decreased globally from 13.6 per cent in 2008 to 10.6 per cent in 2012. The number of children involved in the worst forms of child labour has also decreased from 115 million to 85 million during this time.

Maplecroft’s findings also reveal significant improvements in addressing child labour for certain growth economies. South America is the most improved region, and has been downgraded from ‘extreme’ to ‘high risk’ in the Child Labour Index. Strong progress in Colombia (72nd, 35th in 2013) and Brazil (81st, 65th in 2013) is a key factor contributing to this improving risk profile. Since last year, the countries climbed 37 and 16 places in the rankings, respectively. This improvement is partially due to the implementation of financial aid programmes to lift poor families out of poverty, which is a principal cause of child labour. Child labour risks may, however, spike in the lead up to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil due to the employment of children in the construction of infrastructure projects related to the event.

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