COVID-19 and Child Labor

Theme

Child labour arrow_forward
Covid-19 arrow_forward

As is the case in most crises, the most vulnerable in society will feel the worst impacts of COVID-19. Children, especially those from poor communities, are at particular risk of exploitation as parents fall deeper into poverty during the ensuing economic crisis and face appalling choices about how to sustain their families. Some may feel forced to send their children into the labor market while others seeking employment risk being trafficked for forced labor. COVID-19 may increase the risk of child labor in the following ways:


Schools are closing for indefinite periods of time

  • Children lacking access to the internet and technology, especially those from impoverished and rural communities, will be unable to participate in remote self-guided learning during school closures.
  • In addition to the immediate loss of learning, some students may decide to drop out of school permanently.
  • Experience shows that children and youth not enrolled in school are at a much higher risk of child labor.
  • When schools reopen, parents without jobs may not have the money to pay for school fees, supplies, and uniforms.


Freedom of movement is increasingly restricted

  • This makes it more difficult for community leaders, social workers, and civil society organizations to monitor and provide support to vulnerable children, putting them at a higher risk of exploitation.
  • Public health measures such as stay-at-home orders and curfews will limit access to hired adult labor, resulting in labor shortages and a demand for local workers, including children


Relaxation of child labor regulation and enforcement

  • Proposals have already been put forward to lower the minimum age for child labor to cope with labor shortages in the coffee sector. It is likely similar moves from other sectors and countries will follow. Cash-strapped governments may weaken child labor law enforcement
  • Weakened child labor laws and enforcement will exacerbate already widespread violations of child labor law, especially in rural and agricultural sectors, where enforcement is more costly and time-consuming.
  • This could lead to increases in hazardous work and other worst forms of child labor, including forced labor and human trafficking.


Increased competition for resources and diminished economic opportunities

  • This will make it difficult for families to support themselves financially.
  • This may compel parents to put their children to work so that they can contribute to their families’ incomes.


Disease outbreaks leading to illness and death can disrupt family ties

  • Orphaned or highly vulnerable children who have lost one or both parents during the crisis lack resources and protection, making them vulnerable to child labor.


Reduced government capacity to support vulnerable children

  • There will likely be a reduction in free meal programs, health services, childcare services, and other social service provisions.

Although businesses must make hard financial and practical decisions during times of crisis, the moral and legal imperative to protect workers in company supply chains applies even more in these times of burgeoning vulnerability. Companies must identify risks, sustain commitments to human rights, and address the unique vulnerabilities of workers and children who are employed at the bottom of supply chains. Steps that companies should take to address the increased risk of child labor during the coronavirus crisis include:


Companies should conduct due diligence to ensure that pandemic response activities do not contribute to the exploitation of children.

  • Effective due diligence entails identifying and assessing actual or potential adverse human rights impacts and taking action to address them.
  • Business for Social Responsibility has created a rapid human rights due diligence tool to help with decision-making and the UN Development Program (UNDP) has developed a Rapid Self-Assessment for Business.
  • UNICEF has developed a guide for companies on integrating children’s rights into business policies.
  • For the agricultural sector, the Equitable Food Initiative (EFI) has a library of resources to help protect workers during the coronavirus outbreak and printable materials to share directly with workers in English and Spanish that underscore preventive measures.


Companies must assess where risks are highest in order to prioritize interventions.

  • Countries that have high rates of child labor and human trafficking during relatively stable times will likely be more at risk during a pandemic.
  • The identification of ‘‘hot spots’’ will allow for more targeted interventions. Companies should communicate with suppliers in high-risk countries to understand challenges in identifying and addressing child labor and human trafficking during the crisis and encourage them to make protection of children a priority.
  • Companies may find information about child labor and forced labor risk in international child labor and forced labor reports published by the US Department of Labor, or in the annual Trafficking in Persons Report from the US Department of State.
  • Verité’s Responsible Sourcing Tool highlights the links between child labor and forced labor risks and helps companies understand risks of worker exploitation by sector and geography.


Companies must ensure that supplier policies provide sufficient support to workers and their families at the commodity level.

  • During the crisis, expanded policies should include sick and family leave for all categories of workers, increased health and safety protections, accommodations for remote work where possible, protections for workers laid off or furloughed, and an expansion of worker grievance systems.
  • Access a set of general principles drafted by Verité.


Companies must provide increased support for small-scale producers.

  • Companies must support small-scale suppliers with cash and credit to facilitate continued employment of workers, along with paid sick and family leave, and flexible working arrangements.
  • Companies should consider conversion of sustainability premiums to cash transfers or the creation of new, short-term, emergency funds to channel emergency resources to humanitarian organizations, cooperatives, and producer organizations in the areas from which they source.
  • Companies must remind suppliers about the importance of adhering to policies on child labor even during times of crisis. The ILO has guidelines for companies on developing strong child labor policies.


Companies must involve at-risk youth in the identification of needs for support services.


Measures must be taken to ensure support for children left alone due to the hospitalization or death of a parent or caregiver

  • This could include direct support for civil-society groups and frontline social-service providers (e.g. teachers, social workers, and youth groups) so that they can maintain outreach to vulnerable children and youth.


Through multi-stakeholder initiatives, companies can promote information sharing on support services available to children in sourcing countries.

  • These can include free meal programs, mental health counseling, childcare, remote learning opportunities, and birth registration services.

About Verité

Verité is an independent, non-profit, civil society organization. Since 1995, they have partnered with hundreds of corporations, governments, and NGOs to illuminate labor rights violations in supply chains and remedy them to the benefit of workers and companies alike. For more information, please visit: https://www.verite.org

Author

Lisa Cox

Program Director
Verité

Lisa Cox is a human rights lawyer with significant experience working on rule of law and access to justice issues in Sub-Saharan Africa, South and Southeast Asia, the Caribbean, and the United States.  She has worked at Verité since 2015 on initiatives aimed at improving enforcement of child labor and forced labor laws and supporting the private sector in better identifying and remediating risks of child labor in supply chains.

Prior to joining Verité, Lisa worked with the International Labor Organization, UN Women, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the American Bar Association’s Rule of Law Initiative, and the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Lisa holds a J.D. from American University’s Washington College of Law, a Masters in Public Administration from New York University, and a Bachelors of Arts in Economics and Political Science.

Child labour
View all

Corporate Responses to Protecting Children's Rights in the Middle East and North Africa

In an effort to provide insights and guidance on how businesses protect – or fall short in protecting – children’s rights in the Middle East and North Africa, this report draws on one of Global Child Forum’s essential research products: The corporate sector and children’s rights benchmark. More specifically, insights are provided across three areas where the corporate sector impacts children’s rights: The Workplace, The Marketplace, The Community and the Environment. In 2014, Global Child Forum, in partnership with Boston Consulting Group, published a benchmark study of the 350 largest companies in the region. This report is a follow-up to that study. An updated benchmark analysis has been conducted on 20 of the region’s largest companies.

benchmark study

Children's Rights in South America 2019

In an effort to provide insights and guidance on how businesses protect – or fall short in protecting – children’s rights in South America, this report draws on one of Global Child Forum’s essential research products ‘The corporate sector and children’s rights benchmark’. More specifically, insights are provided across three areas where the corporate sector impacts children’s rights: The Workplace, The Marketplace, The Community and the Environment. In 2017, Global Child Forum, in partnership with Boston Consulting Group, published a benchmark study of the 300 largest companies in the region. This report is a follow-up to that study. An updated benchmark analysis has been conducted on 20 of the region’s largest companies.

benchmark study

Children's Rights in Southern Africa 2019

In an effort to provide insights and guidance on how businesses protect – or fall short in protecting – children’s rights in South Africa, this report draws on one of Global Child Forum’s essential research products ‘The corporate sector and children’s rights benchmark’. More specifically, insights are provided across three areas where the corporate sector impacts children’s rights: The Workplace, The Marketplace, The Community and the Environment. In 2015, Global Child Forum, in partnership with Boston Consulting Group, published a benchmark study of the 271 largest companies in the region. This report is a follow-up to that study. An updated benchmark analysis has been conducted on 20 of the region’s largest companies.

benchmark study

Children's Rights in Southeast Asia 2018

In an effort to provide insights and guidance on how businesses protect – or fall short in protecting – children’s rights in the Southeast Asia region, this report makes use of two essential Global Child Forum research products: The Children Rights and Business Atlas and The corporate sector and children’s rights benchmark. More specifically, insights are provided across three areas where the corporate sector impacts children’s rights: The Workplace, The Marketplace, The Community and the Environment. Throughout this report, data from the Atlas highlights contextual factors that shape how companies can and should respond to children’s rights. This information is contrasted with the results of the Benchmark scoring for the 20 largest companies in Southeast Asia. A gap analysis provides recommendations for company actions that address risks and create positive impact on children’s rights in the region.

benchmark study

Case study: Norsk Hydro Brazil's journey towards social responsibility

Norsk Hydro entered Brazil in 2011 with a long history of fostering healthy communities that grew up around its operations in Norway. The company therefore had no small sense of the responsibilities of being an actor with an enormous impact on the lives of its workers and neighbours. The difficult history and operating environment of the Amazon region, however, challenge Hydro’s commitment to go “beyond compliance” to make a positive difference – particularly with regard to vulnerable populations, including children. This case study is no. 3 in a series of company reflections for Global Child Forum on how companies address children’s rights and child-related issues. All our reports and case studies can be found in our Knowledge Center.

case study

Dig deeper

Select a region, industry or theme below to learn more about our work there.

Regions
East Asia and Pacific arrow_forward
Europe and Central Asia arrow_forward
North America arrow_forward
South Asia arrow_forward
Sub-Saharan Africa arrow_forward
Industries
Apparel and Retail arrow_forward
B2B arrow_forward
Basic Materials arrow_forward
Energy and Utilities arrow_forward
Financials arrow_forward
Healthcare arrow_forward
Technology and Telecom arrow_forward
Travel and Leisure arrow_forward
Themes
Accountability arrow_forward
Business reporting arrow_forward
Child Labour arrow_forward
Child participation arrow_forward
Covid-19 arrow_forward
Decent work arrow_forward
Education arrow_forward
Gender equality arrow_forward
Impact investing arrow_forward
Refugees and Migration arrow_forward