Action by Employers’ Organizations

Employers and their organizations have an indispensable role to play in the fight against child labour. Obviously, the best way for individual enterprises to contribute is to adhere strictly to national laws and regulations which restrict conditions under which children can be employed. Where the employment of children is not proscribed, they should ensure that children are kept away from any dangerous substance or machinery and ensure that their school attendance is not prejudiced.

Employers realize that, apart from obvious humanitarian and social concerns, combating child labour makes good business sense. Children who are left uneducated or are damaged physically or emotionally by early and hazardous work have little chance of becoming productive adult workers. They realize increasingly, too, that public exposure to the use of child labour can cause immeasurable damage to the company image. The most effective role that major companies can play is in setting high standards on workers' rights and on the use of child labour in their own operations and to seek to extend those standards generally among the business community, including subcontractors. Several leading corporations have taken this step by voluntarily establishing their own codes of practice.

Employers' organizations face a particular challenge in carrying the message to small enterprises in the informal sector, where most children in paid work are found and where labour law enforcement is frequently weak or non-existent.

Company management can increasingly look for leadership in such initiatives to the International Organization of Employers (IOE). In 1996 the IOE's General Council resolved to contribute to international efforts to eliminate child labour. It called on employers everywhere to raise awareness of the human, economic and social costs of child labour and to develop action plans to put its policies into effect. The IOE seeks an immediate end to slave-like and bonded forms of child labour and to the use of children in dangerous occupations.

The IOE recognizes that the problem cannot be solved simply by throwing children out of work without providing alternative means of livelihood to them and their families. Employers are opposed to trade sanctions and boycotts, which they consider to be counterproductive; hence their emphasis on measures that deal with the totality of the problem, including welfare, health care, day-care facilities, the development of alternative employment opportunities and the training of adults.

The importance of employers is reflected in the operational strategy of IPEC, which includes them and their organizations as key members of the partnership teams running national projects. IPEC is now working in tandem with the IOE in the production of a handbook for employers designed to motivate employers' organizations and enterprises to become active in the global campaign against child labour.