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Decent work

How decent work can transform cotton production

South-South Project uses good practices in Brazil to promote decent work in cotton production in African and Latin American countries.

News | 03 November 2017
Cotton plantation in Catuti (MG), Brazil.
GENEVA (ILO News) – Cotton is one of the world’s most widely grown crops, generating income for some 250 million people. But for many small-scale farmers, it involves back-breaking work that barely brings in enough money to survive, while in some countries, child labour and forced labour remain significant issues.

The stagnation of cotton prices in recent years has fuelled pressure for reducing production costs increases, which in turn could cause a further deterioration of working conditions and an increase of rights violations.

The Cotton with Decent Work Project is a unique South-South Trilateral cooperation project aims to tackle these issues, drawing on the ILO’s experience and that of Brazil, which has made huge strides in the sector in recent years. “For example, child labour in cotton production has been virtually eradicated in Brazil, mainly as a result of labour inspections and the development of cotton certification processes,” says Fernanda Barreto, the ILO’s coordinator of the programme. “But unfortunately, this and other problems still persist in other countries,” she adds.

Child labour in cotton production has been virtually eradicated in Brazil....... but unfortunately, this and other problems still persist in other countries"

Fernanda Barreto, ILO’s coordinator of the programme
The project covers three cotton-producing countries in Africa – Mali, Mozambique and Tanzania – and two in Latin America – Paraguay and Peru, and is executed by the ILO in partnership with the Brazilian Cooperation Agency (ABC) and the Brazilian Cotton Institute (IBA).It specifically aims at combating poverty and discrimination, eradicating child labour and forced labour, and promoting inclusion, social dialogue, youth employment, gender equality and formalization of work.

The cotton sector is critical to numerous communities in Africa, Asia and Latin America. “By generating income as an export product, for example, cotton contributes to the access of small farmers and their families to food, housing and many other goods and services,” says Barreto. “In addition, it contributes to economic growth as a whole, especially in developing countries whose economy and agricultural production depend on cotton.”

Project teams have conducted missions to participating countries to define, with government, workers’ and employers’ representatives, the activities of the project. The ILO expects the specific work plans countries will begin to be implemented in early 2018.

In Mozambique, some of the main issues identified by the ILO are the absence of vocational training, child labour, informality, lack of access to social protection and non-compliance with safety and health standards at work. With 90 per cent of its cotton production made by family farmers in small units, the African country has more than 1.5 million people dependent on cotton for their income.

In Peru, the textile industry is marked by high rates of informality, low productivity and poor working conditions, as well as lack of access social protection and vocational training.

“We have a highly informal labour market in which the vast majority of workers do not have basic labour rights, and the supply and production chain, especially in rural areas, presents greater difficulties,” Minister of Labour and Employment Promotion of Peru, Alfonso Grados said during a preparatory workshop. “This project should provide a baseline on which to build the major policies we are designing,” he added.

A study carried out by the project revealed that 99.5 per cent of Peruvian cotton production is concentrated in small family production units characterized by high poverty, low income, lack of access to social protection and use of child labour, especially at harvest time. The project will focus on professional training, safety and health at work, and eradication of child labour.