Ethical Performance
inside intelligence for responsible business


Downturn brings greater risk of child exploitation

February 2012

Child labour is on the increase thanks to the global economic crisis and deteriorating security worldwide. Countries such as Brazil and Russia are now considered at ‘extreme risk’ to the children and companies operating there.

The alarm is sounded by the UK-based business research group Maplecroft in its annual Child Labour Index, which sees a 10% rise in countries categorised as acutely dangerous, a category accounting now for 40% of countries worldwide.

This year’s index downgrades Brazil, Peru, Russia, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, among others, to extreme risk status and many African countries go from low or medium to extreme risk. The risk status of most developing countries was increased.

Burma and Somalia now top the offenders’ list, along with North Korea and Sudan, which were not even among the worst ten last year. Developed countries such as the US and UK, however, are still considered medium risk.

Maplecroft says the economic downturn and worsening global security of the past 12 months have swollen the number of displaced children and refugees, as well as groups at risk of economic exploitation, so that many more children are working to supplement family incomes.  

Chris Kip, Maplecroft’s human rights analyst, said: “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 in circumvention of relevant [International Labour Organisation] standards. 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.”

Maplecroft singles out India as a particular risk to companies. It says the manner in which multinationals’ supply chains are exploited in the country pose a real danger of reputational damage.

In its own separate study in December, however, the Indian government said child labour had almost halved during the previous five years, though even this lower figure stands at five million.

Maplecroft | Global | Supply Chain Ethics

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