On the International Day for the Elimination of Child Labour, 30 union leaders from agriculture, fisheries, and food and beverage processing unions from Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Pakistan called for urgent action to end child labour in the food supply chains and implement the Durban Call to Action on the Elimination of Child Labour. Union leaders reported on the use of child labour in agriculture and factories, highlighted the key drivers of child labour and discussed strategies to eliminate child labour.
In addition, unions highlighted the impact of climate change contributing to climate migrations and increased risk of child labour.
Sister Sharmin Sultana, President of the Bangladesh National Women Farmers & Workers Association (NWFA), observed that:
Due to rising sea levels, flooding, river erosion, coastal erosion, and extreme weather in Bangladesh, people are forced off their lands resulting in loss of livelihood and income. In rural areas children previously engaged in agricultural activity on family farms are increasingly accompanying their parents in paid work as migrant workers or are hired directly.
Sister Rafia Gulani, President of Sindh Nari Porihayt Council (SNPC) in Pakistan, added that:
This year’s heat wave in Pakistan has made working in field very challenging for SNPC members and it was more hazardous for children who accompany their parents to work in the field. Families are under debt and work on piece rate systems which forces them to bring children to work.
Sister Vineetha Sailesh, youth leader from Gujarat Agriculture Labour Union (GALU) in India reported on the employment of child labour in potato farms in Gujarat, India in the supply chain of TNCs and in cotton farms under hazardous conditions:
Recognizing agriculture as a hazardous sector, governments must take measures to improve health & safety conditions and to immediately stop children from working on agricultural farms where pesticides are used. Along with that effective implementation of the right to education which will reduce child labour from farms and rehabilitate them by enrolling them into schools and by providing an adequate living wage and employment opportunities for adults.
Brother Raja Reddy, Council President from Andhra Pradesh Vyavsaya Vruthidarula Union (APVVU) India, highlighted the use of piece-rate wage systems in seed companies and fields forcing parents to bring children to work.
We must end the quota system in seed companies where we have found substantial use of child labour and we must create year-round employment opportunities in rural areas with guaranteed living wage.
Brother Balu Gadi, a youth leader of APVVU added that:
The increased food prices are contributing to children dropping out of schools and are forced to work. The government’s failure to take measures to control prices and protect food security is increasing child labour and children may never go back to school.
Sister Megha Desai from the Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA ) reiterated the importance of stable income and livelihood for adults, right to education, right to healthcare and tackling climate change as key strategies to eliminate child labour in agriculture.
Unions from food and beverage processing highlighted the need to investigate child labour in the supply chain and committed to include elimination of child labour in their collective bargaining agreements and support unions in agriculture to end child labour.
Brother Abdul Mannan from IUF Food Workers’ Council in Bangladesh recalled the Hashem Food Fire tragedy which killed 19 children working in the factory on July 8 and reported the use of child labour in other factories in Bangladesh.
The IUF Food Workers Council will investigate the use of child labour, workers’ rights violation and hazardous working conditions in other food factories and is committed to ensure that children are not exploited in the factories. Along with that the council will support workers in food factories to organize and form unions.
Brother Khaista Rehman, General Secretary of the Pakistan Food Workers’ Federation (PFWF) added:
PFWF is committed to support unions working to eliminate child labour, we will include a clause on eliminating child labour in the supply chain in union collective agreements.
Brother Amol, President of Sunfresh Agro Industries Kamgar Sanghatana in India said:
Companies should take responsibility to tackle child labour in their supply chain and the companies will not take it seriously unless we make the issue of child labour a priority.
Brother Anwer Zeb, youth leader from the Tobacco Growers’ Association (TGA) in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan, where the prevalence of child labour in tobacco growing is high, reported that the TGA has changed their constitution of include eliminating child labour in tobacco farming and membership to the association will depend on members’ commitment to end child in tobacco farms.
We need to put the effort in monitoring child labour in our farms as it is a continuous process and whenever we become unfocused use of child labour may return.
All of the participating unions highlighted the importance of freedom of association in ending the conditions that forces children to work in hazardous conditions and unions in food sector working together to eliminate child labour.