Almost one child in ten, in the world, is in child labour, many in activities that pose a constant risk or are detrimental to their health. The situation has been worsened with the COVID pandemic: while many schools moved to distant learning, almost half of the world has no access to the internet, leaving students even further behind. Deteriorating living and working standards, exacerbated by the pandemic, drive many of these children into even more dire situations.
This year’s World Day Against Child Labour focuses on action taken for the 2021 International Year for the Elimination of Child Labour. It is the first World Day since the universal ratification of the ILO’s Convention No. 182 on the Worst Forms of Child Labour, and takes place at time when the COVID-19 crisis threatens to reverse years of progress in tackling the problem.
The European Union however can and must do more, particularly when it comes to its greatest weapon in the global arena: trade. The single market holds an enormous clout on international rules and can use it to ensure environmental and social standards, including preventing children from forced labour and halting the production of goods which involve it. For this to work, mandatory due diligence must become a reality for global supply chains. Companies need to become fully sustainable in both environmental and social terms, and actively seek to protect human rights.
Due diligence obligations, notably with regards to global value chains, must guide management decisions that aim at sustainable companies. For this, either a directive or a regulation at EU level is necessary, encompassing not only social and environmental protection but also trade union rights and collective bargaining. This should also ensure a level playing field in the market, rather than a race to the bottom in human rights protection.