Sectors where child labour is most prevalent include toys, apparel, and agriculture. © my NurPhoto/Getty Images
Sectors where child labour is most prevalent include toys, apparel, and agriculture. © my NurPhoto/Getty Images

Global child labour progress has 'flatlined'

30 May 2019

Countries in Asia and Africa with global supply chains have been ranked with the highest risk of child labour despite economic and social improvements, according to research.

The Child Labour Index 2019 by global risk consultancy Verisk Maplecroft suggested progress against child labour in manufacturing industries globally has flatlined, with “no tangible improvement” since 2016.

North Korea, Somalia, and South Sudan were called out as the top three highest-risk countries globally, with sectors where child labour is most prevalent including apparel, agriculture, toys, sporting goods, construction and mining.  

Oscar Larsson, human rights data analyst at Verisk Maplecroft, said: “Child labour is still prevalent across many sectors and if countries aren’t taking action it is up to companies to see they have the tools to ensure it’s not happening under their watch.

“The economic momentum of many countries is yet to trickle down to the poorest in society and any meaningful headway on labour rights issues, including child labour, remains elusive.”

The top 10 worst-performing countries in 2019 (out of 198) are:

  1. North Korea
  2. Somalia
  3. South Sudan
  4. Eritrea
  5. Central African Republic
  6. Sudan
  7. Venezuela
  8. Papua New Guinea
  9. Chad
  10. Mozambique

Main contributing factors across countries include lack of resources for labour inspections or anti-child labour programmes, poor enforcement and inadequate sanctions to deter violations, domestic laws that fail to meet international labour standards, and corruption within government and law enforcement.  

Nearly one billion people are living where child labour is considered an “extreme risk”, according to Maplecroft’s report. Manufacturing hubs in 27 countries are identified as having the highest “risk of association or complicity with child labour in their supply chain”.

The index scores show “little or no improvement” in manufacturing supply chains with a further 82 countries measured as “high risk”, including economic giants India (ranked 47th), and China (98). Organisations with extended supply chains in countries such as Ethiopa (30) and Bangladesh (44) should also be aware of the unchanged trend of high risk, due to exploitation and economic factors meaning children work out of necessity.

Meanwhile, Venezuela has been hit by political and social instability, resulting in it falling 80 places and moving into the top 10 highest-risk countries (7th) in the index.

East Africa is the highest risk region with five out of 10 countries ranked at the top. Nigeria has dropped into the “extreme risk” category since 2016. However, some African countries have been making strides between 2017 and 2019 through increased enforcement capabilities, fewer violations, and new commitments towards tackling the issue. Liberia improved by 44 places to 58th, Myanmar climbed significantly from 3rd highest risk in 2018 to 27th in 2019. Madagascar also improved by 20 places (to 45th) since 2017.  

Despite increased economic growth, and improvements to poverty and education, the South Asia region is among the 25% worst performing countries globally, according to the report. China and India lack vital enforcement of regulations, and India’s laws are criticised for falling short of international labour standards, which set a legal working age of 15.

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