EU feels child labour heatSeptember 2008
The European Union has been urged to ensure that its support for any European company through trade missions and subsidies be withdrawn if the business is found to be using child labour in its supply chains.
The proposal, from a Netherlands-based umbrella group of non-governmental organizations called Stop Child Labour, is backed by the UK MEP Richard Howitt, a former rapporteur to the European Parliament’s committee on employment and social affairs.
In a new paper, Child labour, trade relations and corporate social responsibility, Stop Child Labour proposes the EU withhold subsidies, credits and trade mission services from companies whose suppliers are found to be using child labour. Support could continue only if the company gave a public undertaking to remedy matters.
In the Netherlands the government recently implemented a measure allowing it to withdraw financial support and business advice for firms found using child labour.
Stop Child Labour urges the EU to encourage member states to deny public procurement contracts to errant companies. It also proposes a ‘child labour impact assessment’ of trade and investment relations between EU countries and others to ‘give the EU a solid factual base on which [to] specify and implement anti-child labour policies in terms of informing consumers, providing or withdrawing subsidies, development co-operation, trade measures, political dialogue, fair public procurement and reporting’.
In a recent written parliamentary question, Howitt and the Dutch MEP Thijs Berman, who is vice chairman of the committee on development, both support the proposals and suggest the EU fund a Child Labour Hotline to receive confidential information on EU-based companies’ direct operations or supply chains, with ‘substantial research capacity’ to uncover evidence.
The European Commission’s second corporate responsibility white paper, published in 2006, essentially rejected the need for significant action by the commission, and policy chiefs have since said little on the subject. However, pressure has increased in the last 18 months, and last year a cross-party MEP group criticized the commission for lacking any clear vision of how to advance responsible business practice in Europe (EP8, issue 11, p3).
Stop Child Labour was founded by Alliance2015, a coalition of six development organizations – Cesvi (Italy), Concern (Ireland), Deutsche Welthunger Hilfe (Germany), IBIS (Denmark), Hivos (the Netherlands) and People in Need (Czech Republic). The eight-year-old coalition claims its lobbying has led to ILO Convention 138, Concerning Minimum Age for Admission to Employment, being ratified by many EU member states. The convention was adopted in 1973.
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