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Conflict and economic downturn cause global increase in reported child labour violations – 40% of countries now rated ‘extreme risk’ by annual study

Brazil, China, India, Indonesia and Philippines expose companies to high levels of supply chain risk

An annual study by risk analysis firm Maplecroft has revealed that 76 countries now pose ‘extreme risks’ to the welfare of children from the entrenched use of underage working practices, up more than 10% from last year’s total of 68 ‘extreme risk’ countries.

According to Maplecroft the rise in reported child labour violations is due to worsening global security and the economic downturn.

The Child Labour Index 2012 evaluates the frequency and severity of reported child labour incidents in 197 countries. Worryingly, nearly 40% of all countries have been classified as ‘extreme risk’ in the index with conflict torn and authoritarian states topping the ranking. Myanmar, North Korea, Somalia, Sudan are ranked joint first, while DR Congo (5), Zimbabwe (6), Afghanistan (7), Burundi (8), Pakistan (9) and Ethiopia (10) round off the worst performers.

Maplecroft suggests that the global hike in the use of child labour is mainly caused by a deteriorating security situation worldwide. This has resulted in increased numbers of internally displaced children and refugees, who, together with children from minority communities continue to be the groups at most risk of economic exploitation. Sub-Saharan Africa is identified as the region posing the most risk in this respect.

Difficult and uncertain economic conditions in many countries of the world, as a result of the continuing effect of the 2008 financial crisis, have also led to many more children working to supplement family incomes.

The Child Labour Index has been developed by Maplecroft to evaluate the extent of country-level child labour practices and the performance of governments in preventing child labour and ensuring the accountability of perpetrators. By doing so, the index enables companies to identify risks of children being employed within their supply chains in violation of the standards on minimum age of employment. The index also analyses conditions of work which could have a negative impact on the health, safety and moral education of child labourers.

The International Labour Organisation estimates that there are over 215 million children working across the world and of these 115 million are thought to be involved in hazardous work. According to UNICEF, the number of those between the ages of 5-14 and engaged in child labour is estimated at around 150 million.

Emerging economies pose ‘extreme’ supply chain risks to companies

Maplecroft highlights the supply chains of companies as being particularly exposed to the risk of child labour in some of the largest growth economies, including the Philippines (25), India (27), China (36), Viet Nam (37) Indonesia (46) and Brazil (54), all of which are classified as ‘extreme risk.’

“Business can be directly implicated or can be deemed complicit in violations of the prohibition of child labour if children are found to be working within their operations or are used by their suppliers,” states Maplecroft Human Rights Analyst, Chris Kip. “Companies should ensure stringent human rights due diligence within their supply chain is undertaken to reduce the risk of damaged reputations, litigation, investor alienation and consumer backlash.”

According to Maplecroft, the emerging and growth economies pose distinct risks to companies because they form critical links within multinational supply chains. In India, for instance, the majority of child labour in the country occurs in agriculture and the informal economy, but evidence shows that children are found working in factories, gemstone cutting, quarrying, hybrid seed production, brick kilns, rice mills, garment assembly, silk thread production and textile embroidery.

Definitive child labour figures for India do not exist, but according to a 2009 UNICEF report, more than 200,000 children were working in hybrid seed production alone. The US Department of State estimates that there are 10 million to 11.5 million child labourers in neighbouring Pakistan.