Acting Together for a World Free from Child Labor and Forced Labor

Today, over 40 million persons around the world are victims of modern slavery, and 152 million children are still in child labor, 70% of them in agriculture, or either in the production of goods for exportation. Many work in hazardous industries or conditions or do not go to school. Alliance 8.7 gathers all actors, including governments, international organizations, NGOs, unions and businesses to put an end to child labor, forced labor and human trafficking. What are the concrete solutions that this multilateral coalition can bring to restore the dignity of victims and ensure their fundamental rights are respected?

Date : 12 November 2019

Paris, France – Grande Halle de La Villette, Auditorium

Watch the full debate

Speakers

  • Moderator: Anousheh Karvar, Delegate of the French government to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), and Chair, Alliance 8.7
  • Evelyn Chumbow, Survivor Consultant, Activist, Humanity United
  • Angel Gurría, Secretary-General, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)
  • Joseph Ikoli Yombo Y’apeke, Secretary-General, Ministry of Mining, Democratic Republic of Congo
  • Muriel Pénicaud, Minister of Labour, France
  • Guy Ryder, Director General, International Labor Organization (ILO)
  • Gilles Vermot-Desroches, Chief Sustainability Officer, Schneider Electric

Key takeaways from the discussion

  • With Alliance 8.7 under French presidency for the year, Minister Muriel Pénicaud shared the country’s position with regard to forced labor: the fight against forced labor should be carried out at an international and multi-stakeholder level because the economic and financial stakes make it a global scourge. This long-ignored issue has therefore become a central discussion point at the latest G7, G7 Social and G20 meetings, to ensure that similar work is not carried out by each group. The Minister recommended combining national and international agendas on this issue and supporting 15 countries that have volunteered to accelerate their efforts on these challenges, as well as initiatives such as the Global Deal for Decent Work and Inclusive Growth launched by Sweden in 2016. One of the challenges of this presidency will be to measure the progress made against the SDG objective of eradicating child labor by 2025 and putting an end to forced labor by 2030. To this end, the Alliance will be a platform for the exchange of best practices and solutions on the subject, in order to have examples of what states, companies and NGOs are doing at the forefront and which can inspire others. There are several tools for implementation such as legislation or voluntary commitment, and the Minister insisted on the spirit of mutual assistance that the partners of the Alliance must live by in order to achieve concrete results. With regard to companies, she said that corporate responsibility should be more closely linked to their reputation and that bad practices should be more heavily sanctioned in terms of public image.
  • Guy Ryder stated that 100 years after the foundation of the ILO and despite the existence of legislative texts on the subject such as the 1944 Declaration of Philadelphia, Convention 138 on Minimum Age, and Convention 182 on the Worst Forms of Child Labour, there was still a long way to go, especially in terms of law enforcement, as no flexibility should be allowed on this issue. These shortcomings are highlighted in the ‘Ending Child Labour, Forced Labour and Trafficking in Global Supply Chains’ report published on the same day as the session and jointly prepared by the ILO, OECD, International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) under the aegis of Alliance 8.7. This represents the first-ever attempt to measure these abuses and human rights violations on a large scale and will serve as a basis for the formulation of further policies and recommendations in this area. Mr. Ryder called for the creation of better implementation mechanisms and more work on the systemic causes of vulnerability such as poverty, lack of education or social protection, which are a breeding ground for forced labor. He referred to the creation of thematic working groups within the framework of Alliance 8.7 to further explore related topics such as migration issues or the management of corporate supply chains. He insisted on the importance of reflecting on due diligence issues in companies, in particular to see whether it is effective to legislate on the subject (as was the case with the Modern Slavery Act in the United Kingdom, for example), to decide on the reasonable level of subcontractors that a large company should be required to be able to control, to make audits more effective, and to see whether it would be possible to innovate with new technologies such as blockchain. In his view, individual responsibility, as decision-makers, producers or consumers is key to the success of this fight.
  • Joseph Ikoli also recalled that Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 8 (Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all), and in particular Goal 8.7, has an important interconnection with other SDGs such as the eradication of poverty or access to education. He referred to the sectoral strategy and the inter-ministerial dialogue set up in his country to seek alternative and sustainable solutions to child labor: free basic education, diversification of parents’ activities, restoration of state authority in mining areas to better enforce the law, etc. To this end, pilot projects are in place with partners (ILO, the American government, African Development Bank), but the Secretary-General stressed that additional administrative, technical and financial support from regional and international bodies was needed to carry out this mission in the Democratic Rrepublic of Congo (DRC).
  • Evelyn Chumbow, a former victim of modern slavery turned consultant, lawyer and activist, shared the lessons of her painful experience and her recommendations with the audience. She emphasized the financial stakes involved in the exploitation of human beings and the need for more education and awareness-raising efforts with companies. In addition, she highlighted the need for support, training and empowerment for victims, who must be able to rebuild their lives and take up new professional activities, to avoid them falling back into the grip of another exploitative entity. These support services require funding. She concluded by urging everyone to take action: “You can feel sorry for the story that you’ve heard about me. I don’t want you to feel sorry, I want you to take action by funding and letting survivors speak up.”
  • Angel Gurria recalled some of the factors that prevent many citizens from benefiting from the positive effects of globalization and make them victims of exploitation: lack of law enforcement, corruption, collusion, trafficking, sometimes perpetrated by the public authorities themselves. He shared the initiatives taken by the OECD in the field of corporate responsibility. For several years, the Organisation has developed the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises. These guidelines encourage multinational enterprises to respect a set of principles and standards aimed at ensuring responsible behavior on their part, wherever they may operate. These principles are regularly updated, and National Contact Points have been set up with the ILO for their implementation and to report any misconduct. He also mentioned the Business for Inclusive Growth (B4IG) coalition launched under the aegis of the French Presidency of the G7 and coordinated by the OECD, which met the same day at the Paris Peace Forum. This pioneering coalition brings together leading multinational companies that have signed a declaration in which they commit to taking concrete steps to ensure that the fruits of economic growth are more widely shared and to address inequality of opportunity. Following the signing of this declaration, companies will set up an incubator and subsequently finance the good practices that emerge from their discussions. According to the Secretary-General, many companies in the fashion sector, which has been highly criticized for its lack of respect for international labor standards, have tightened control over their supply chain and can now trace everything back to cotton production, which gives grounds for optimism with regard to the transparency of operations in the future.
  • Gilles Vermot-Desroches stressed the importance of mobilization on this subject within an international alliance. According to him, the aggregation of experiences and actors allows, among other things, access to more reliable data. Not only does this help raise awareness around the problem and measure the scale of the task as well as the progress made, but it is a prerequisite to convince more organizations to get involved. He then shared best practices implemented at Schneider Electric, such as improving their suppliers’ awareness of the United Nations Global Compact (UNGC), human rights and child labor laws. Companies are required to sign and commit to these issues and are subject to audits. He also recalled that the fight against the exploitation of human beings requires a way out of poverty, notably through access to electricity. Schneider Electric is stepping up its efforts in this direction so that several million families have better living conditions and no longer feel the need to make their children work. He concluded by saying that every child who worked and did not go to school was a loss for all, because the greatest innovations in tomorrow’s world will come from the billion teenagers that make up today’s young generation and should therefore not be neglected.

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