Q&As on business and child labour

Question: I am trying to figure out why the basic minimum age is set at 15 or 14. What would be the consequences of setting a global policy with a basic minimum age at 16?

Answer: The company should respect the minimum age set by law, normally 15 but in some countries it is set at 14 and others at 16. If the minimum age set by the national law is below either 15 in developed countries or 14 in developing countries, the company should apply the minimum of 15, or exceptionally 14 for developing countries. (See, Minimum Age Convention, 1973 (No. 138), Article 2) The age of 18 should be applied if and where the work or tasks in question are considered as hazardous—defined as work which, by its nature or the circumstances in which it is carried out, is likely to harm the health, safety or morals of children. (See, ILO Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention, 1999 (No. 182), Article 3d [2]) Furthermore, the age of 18 could also be imposed for a specific post if it can be considered as an inherent requirement of the job.

In any other circumstances, a minimum age of 16 would be discriminatory. Discrimination at work includes any “distinction, exclusion or preference … which has the effect of nullifying or impairing equality of opportunity or treatment in employment or occupation.” See, Discrimination (Employment and Occupation) Convention, 1958 (No. 111), Article 1(1) Discrimination occurs when a person is treated less favourably than others because of characteristics that are not closely related to the inherent requirements of the job or when the same condition, treatment or criterion results in a disproportionately harsh impact on some persons.

The provision of work opportunities for adolescents under adequate conditions, rather than excluding them entirely from employment opportunities, is one of the effective measures to eliminate child labour, including its worst forms. Companies can play an important role in promoting youth employment by providing non-hazardous decent work opportunities to young people between the minimum age and 16. Companies are encouraged to increase employment opportunities and standards, taking into account the employment policies and objectives of the government; in many countries, increasing youth employment is a central policy goal. See, ILO Tripartite Declaration of Principles Concerning Multinational Enterprises and Social Policy, paragraph 16.

Question: Do you have any document that we can use for suppliers to sign, which says that they guarantee that they don´t use child labour?

Answer: The ILO does not provide documents for enterprises to sign. The ILO approach to eliminating child labour is a more systemic approach which promotes collaboration between buyers, suppliers, employers and workers organization and the community.


Company policies to prevent child labour and ensure that children go to school

Question: What can our company do to prevent child labour?

Answer: In general terms, child labour is work performed at too early an age which deprives a child of the chance to obtain an education or damages a child’s development.

Enterprises should contribute to the “effective abolition of child labour” and to “take immediate and effective measures within their own competence to secure the prohibition and elimination of the worst forms of child labour as a matter of urgency,”[1] including forced labour or slavery-like practices, including child trafficking and child soldiers, the use of children in sexual exploitation or in illicit activities, and designated hazardous work.

The minimum working age is usually set by the national legislation, and must be respected. According to international standards, it is at least 15, which is typically the age when compulsory schooling ends. Exceptions may be permitted for work done in the context of training or for light work from 13 years of age that does not affect schooling.

In developing countries, the prescribed minimum age may be set at 14 years generally and at 12 years for light work. However, some countries (for example, Brazil, China and Kenya) chose to set the minimum age at 16 years on their own initiative.

Nobody under the age of 18 years should be engaged in hazardous work—work that is damaging to a child’s physical, social, mental, psychological and spiritual development— regardless of the level of development of the country. Efforts to eliminate the worst forms of child labour should not be used to justify other forms of child labour.

Action to eliminate the worst forms of child labour should give special attention to the needs of girls and the young child.

Not all work by a person under the age of 18 is child labour. It depends both on the age and on the types and conditions of work. Child labour should not be confused with “youth employment”; as from the minimum working age, young people should be introduced to decent work, but still need protection from hazardous work and other worst forms of child labour. There are also flexibilities for “light work”, which is permissible as from 13 (or 12) years of age by school-going children if authorized and monitored by the relevant authorities.

Companies sourcing in specific industry sectors with geographically distant supply chains need to be particularly vigilant. Part of conducting due diligence should include review of ILO and other research to be aware of sectors prone to child labour problems in areas where a company operates.

Particular actions companies can take to eliminate child labour in the workplace include:

  • Adhere to minimum age provisions of national labour laws and regulations and, where national law is insufficient, take account of international standards.
  • Use adequate and verifiable mechanisms for age verification upon recruitment.
  • Maintain accurate and up-to-date records of all employees.
  • When children below the legal working age are found in the workplace, take measures to remove them from work and
  • To the extent possible, help the child removed from workplace and his/her family to access adequate services and viable alternatives.
  • Exercise influence on subcontractors, suppliers and other business partners to combat child labour.
  • Consider ways to build the capacity of business partners to combat child labour, such as the provision of training and incentives.
  • Fix the wage level for the adult employees so that they can support their families without depending on children’s earning.

Companies may also wish to contribute, where possible, to broader community efforts to eliminate child labour and help children removed from work to have access to quality education and social protection, including:

  • Work in partnership with other companies, sectoral associations and employers’ organisations to develop an industry-wide approach to address the issue, and build bridges with stakeholders such as workers’ organisations, law enforcement authorities, labour inspectorates and others.
  • Establish or participate in a task force or committee on child labour in your representative employers’ organisation at local, state or national level. Support development of a National Action Plan against child labour as part of key policy and institutional mechanisms to combat forced labour at national level.
  • Within your sphere of influence, participate in prevention and re-integration programmes for former child labourers by providing education, skills development and job training opportunities.
  • Where possible, participate in national and international programmes, including media campaigns, and co-ordinate with local and national authorities, workers’ organisations and others.

Information on monitoring concerning child labour can be found in Eliminating Child Labour. Guide Two: How employers can eliminate child labour, pages 47-48.

[1] Tripartite Declaration of Principles concerning Multinational Enterprises and Social Policy, paragraph 36

Question: What kind of incentives can a company use in order to prevent child labour? And how can a company ensure that children go to school?

Answer: There are three types of action a company can take: provide financial incentives, raise awareness of the importance of school attendance among staff, and participate in collective action.

1. Help address the root cause of child labour—poverty. The most important incentive is to pay adult workers decent wages that enable them to send their children to school. The company should ensure payment of the legal minimum wage. It should consider paying above the minimum wage where the minimum is not sufficient. However, paying a higher wage may not be feasible for a particular company without the worker's ability to improve his or her skills and productivity. Other types of financial incentives a company may wish to consider include:

  • providing school grants for employees' children;
  • paying bonuses for employees' children completing certain education levels;
  • establishing day care at the work place or near to it to avoid younger children not enrolling in school and instead starting work; and
  • providing after-school recreational facilities for children so they have a place to do homework and play which will keep them out of work.

While combating child labour is a universal goal, appropriate incentives for a particular company to use in order to prevent child labour will depend a lot on the national situation. The incentives should be designed to suit the needs of both the companies and their workers. A dialogue with workers and their representatives on how best to structure incentives would insure the most effective approach.

2. Raise awareness. A company can play a very important role in raising awareness of the value of education. Generally, economic incentives should always go hand in hand with sensitization to make sure the incentive has the intended effect of keeping children in school and out of labour.

3. Joining efforts. Although companies can take action individually, child labour is an issue which is most effectively addressed collectively. National employers’ and workers’ organizations may be able to provide suggestions and guidance about what incentives are most appropriate in the local context. And a company may find that by acting through an employers’ organization and in cooperation with workers’ organizations, many of the suggestions listed above which may not be financially feasible for each individual company to provide could be provided jointly.

Furthermore, companies acting in cooperation with others will be more effective in advocating for the government to assume its responsibilities for combating child labour. Some areas for potential collective advocacy for government action include:

  • free compulsory schooling in national legislation.
  • appropriate training opportunities for teachers.
  • the construction of additional classrooms.
  • the recruitment of additional qualified teachers especially in the rural areas.
  • the provision of funds for non-formal educational opportunities for school drop-outs and other vulnerable children, particularly in the rural areas; bursary schemes for children orphaned by HIV/AIDs, and
  • skills training programmes for children withdrawn from the streets.
  • effective enforcement of child labour laws and child labour monitoring.

Additionally companies managing supply chains could take steps to put in place a due diligence process and where child labour is found, work with suppliers to eliminate child labour.

Question: We found children aged 13-14 working at three factories and we are experiencing a lot of difficulties when looking for training centres in which to place them. The nearest training centre is about 6 hours away. What is the suggestion of the ILO in such situation?

Answer: In circumstances where there is a lack of good schooling or vocational training options, good practice elsewhere has been to continue to pay the wages until the children are of legal age to work, then rehiring them in appropriate (non-hazardous for below 18 year olds) work. Apprenticeships in accordance with relevant legislation can also be a good option. Can the factories engage the children in clerical or other non-hazardous work as apprentices?

In reacting to the problem it would be important to understand Bangladesh law, including minimum age for entry into work, any provisions for light work and the hazardous work list of occupations prohibited for under-18s.

In other instances, companies have hired parents or adult members of the household, resulting in increased household income and reducing the need for children to work. It sounds like the children in this case are with their families, which is a major advantage in promoting that they have real alternatives to child labour. If the factories can provide work for the parents with adequate wages, the pressure on the children to work would be much less and the leverage with the parents, who are attending daily or weekly meetings with the human resources department, would be much increased (attendance at school or vocational training also could be monitored in these meetings). The buyers should consider sharing any costs associated with this (and with support for remediation for the affected children) as it may increase operating costs of the factories, at least in the short term.

Finally, it would also be important to strengthen preventive measures in the supply chain or else the problem is likely to recur, which is why remediation is so challenging.

Question: In a visit to a customer we saw children around 10 years old were serving coffee and doing lighter assembly work in the production. What should we tell the customer, if anything?

Answer: Companies are encouraged to work within their spheres of influence. Enterprises are responsible for their own workplaces, but they also can have an influence beyond it. They can encourage or even help business partners to reduce child labour; they can work with other organizations to create awareness; they can support broader programmes to improve education facilities for children and so on.

Therefore, you may wish to point out to your customer the growing realization that child labour is becoming an important issue for all businesses everywhere and companies need to be proactive rather than reactive. Being proactive in finding solutions means that the enterprise will avoid bad publicity in the media, fines by the government and dictates by buyers. In addition, the removal of children from work takes time and planning. Being proactive means an enterprise stands a better chance of planning this process carefully.


Child labour situation in a specific country or region

Question: Where can I find information on the situation of child labour in a specific country?

Answer: A new ILO database NORMLEX provides information on what conventions a country has ratified. You can also find "Country Profiles" as well as the Comments on the country by the ILO supervisory bodies. The website also provides links to national legislation.  

Information on the extent, characteristics and determinants of child labour at the global as well as country and sectoral level is provided by the ILO’s Statistical Information and Monitoring Programme on Child Labour (SIMPOC).

In addition, the national employers and workers organizations may be a useful source of information on child labour issues in the country.

Question: In the ILO Conventions on Child Labour, according to which criteria a country is considered to be a "developing country"?

Answer: A "developing country" is considered to be "a Member whose economy and educational facilities are insufficiently developed"[1]. Countries determine for themselves whether they qualify to make use of this provision to set the minimum age for work at 14 years of age instead of 15. Only in one instance, in the case of Argentina, was the government specifically requested to indicate why.

It is important to note that many developing countries have not made use of this provision, and instead apply the minimum age of 15 years, or set a higher minimum age of 16 years.

Nobody under the age of 18 years should be engaged in hazardous work—work that is damaging to a child’s physical, social, mental, psychological and spiritual development— regardless of the level of development of the country.[2]
 
[1] Minimum Age Convention, (No. 138), 1973, Article 2, paragraph 4
[2] Minimum Age Convention, 1973 (No.138) Article 3; and Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention, 1999 (No. 182), Articles 2, 3(d) and 4.

Question: Information regarding the situation of Child Labour in Latin America, and the actions that are being taken by companies to get involved in its prevention and elimination.

Answer: A summary of the situation in the region and the actions of the International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC) is available.


Birth certificates and verification of workers’ age

Question: We are aware that in some countries birth certificates are either not available or falsified. Are there suggested approaches for verifying worker age?

Answer: To verify the age of workers, “employers should keep and make available to the competent authority registers or other documents indicating the names and ages or dates of birth, duly certified wherever possible, not only of children and young persons employed by them but also of those receiving vocational orientation or training in their undertakings.”[1]

When there are no birth certificates to verify age or where falsified documents are easily obtained, the following suggestions may be helpful:[2]

  • a medical examination prior to employment may help to indicate the person’s true age and also to verify the physical aptitude for the work. Care should always be taken to respect the person’s right to privacy.
  • cross-checking multiple written documents and affidavits can help identify false documentation
  • employers can hold interviews with employees and applicants who appear to be below the minimum age required for work to obtain further information
  • school enrolment certificates can be a good source of information.

Local indicators may also be helpful in countries where the challenge is that the worker may not know the precise year in which he or she was born. For example, in some Asian countries children do not know their precise year of birth but they know the animal year (Year of the Monkey, etc.). A person might know that their birth is related to some major historical event, such as independence or the start or end of a war, or a significant anniversary. You may wish to check what are some local key events or means of marking time in the country of operation which you could use in interviews with workers where you may have doubts about their age.

[1] See, Article 9(3) of Convention No. 138 (1973), concerning the employers’ obligation to keep registers of young workers under 18.
[2] See, Eliminating Child Labour: Guides for Employers, ILO, Geneva, 2007.

Question: If an official certificate states that the person is at least 18 years old but the employee says that s/he was provided a new certificate and is actually less than 18 years of age, should the company consider the employee under 18 or shall the company go by the official though false certificate?

Answer: The Minimum Age Recommendation, 1973 (No. 146), which supplements the Minimum Age Convention, 1973 (No. 138) states in Paragraph 16(a) that "the public authorities should maintain an effective system of birth registration, which should include the issue of birth certificates." This means the authorities should ensure a proper system of birth certificates which provides the correct date of birth.

If a company has reason to believe that the age indicated on a certificate is false, it should not be used as the basis for determining the age of the person for employment. A document issued by the local authority indicating a false date of birth does not justify employment of an under-age child. If the local authorities are not sensitive to the problem, there might be room for private entities to raise awareness with the authorities about the need for reliable birth certificates and to collaborate with local organizations concerned with tackling child labour.


Marriage of girls and child labour

Question: If the national law considers girls as young as 12 who marry to be adults and thus of working age, is this considered to be child labour? Our question relates to the agricultural sector.

Answer: The fact that a girl as young as 12 is married and therefore considered under national law to be an adult does not make child labour any less harmful to her. Convention No. 138 sets the minimum age for entering into work at 15 and exceptionally at 14. Convention No.182 requires the protection of all children under the age of 18 from hazardous work and other worst forms of child labour. Action to eliminate the worst forms of child labour should give special attention to the needs of the young girl child.

The ILO MNE Declaration encourages enterprises to “obey the national laws and regulations, give due consideration to local practices” but also to “respect relevant international standards.” Concerning child labour, the MNE Declaration also calls on enterprises to contribute to the “effective abolition of child labour” and to “take immediate and effective measures within their own competence to secure the prohibition and elimination of the worst forms of child labour as a matter of urgency.”

Child labour is work which deprives a child of the chance to obtain an education. The worst forms of child labour damage a child’s physical, social, mental, psychological and spiritual development because it is work performed at too early an age.


Apprenticeships and child labour

Question: Are apprentices under 18 (but above 14) allowed to work in a night shift? Could a company employ 17-year olds in night shifts to support youth employment if they are on a government defined apprentice program?

Answer: If the national law or regulations prohibit the engagement of under-18 at night, that rule has to be adhered to. In the absence of applicable national rules, the following may guide the business.

International labour standards generally prohibit engaging workers under 18 years of age to work at night. However, an exception may be made to allow 16 and 17 year olds to undertake night work as part of an apprenticeship programme under the following limited circumstances:

  • The apprenticeship programme should be authorized by the competent authority.
  • The young person should be granted a rest period of at least thirteen consecutive hours between two working periods.
  • The young person should be given an appropriate specific instruction or training regarding the work prior to being engaged at night
  • Measures should be taken to safeguard and supervise the conditions of the apprenticeship, including the work at night.

Young people below the age of 16 should never be engaged in night work, even as apprentices.

The provisions are balancing two considerations. On the one hand, young workers whose bodies are still developing are more vulnerable to the potential harm caused by working at night; are at greater risk of accidents; and are more vulnerable to the risks involved in travelling in the dark to the work site. On the other hand, many jobs require night work; therefore, a complete prohibition against apprenticeships and vocational training opportunities involving night work would deny young people an important opportunity.

Question: Does ILO have some general experiences and recommendations concerning apprenticeships for us to use when clarifying our child labour requirements to our suppliers?

Answer: International labour standards state that measures should be taken to safeguard and supervise the conditions in which children and young persons undergo vocational orientation and training within undertakings, training institutions and schools for vocational or technical education.

Special attention should be given to the provision of fair remuneration and its protection, bearing in mind the principle of “equal pay for equal work” meaning work of a similar nature which meets the same requirements as to quantity and quality of work as that of other workers.

In practice, it is not uncommon that national minimum wage laws or regulations exclude apprentices from coverage, and the Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations has confirmed that this practice may be consistent with the Minimum Wage Fixing Convention. In these cases there are usually clear definitions of what it means to be an "apprentice", including limitations of the apprenticeship period and specific obligations of the employers in terms of ensuring training; and, in so-called "dual systems", time off to attend courses in training centres.

Question: Do the same protections apply also to interns, trainees and student workers who are at and above 18 years, as for those interns, trainees and student who are below 18 years?

Answer: The special protections afforded by the Minimum Age Convention, Article 3(3), include full protection of the young apprentice’s health, safety and morals within an apprenticeship scheme subject to government regulation and oversight. These protections apply to young persons between 16 and 18 years of age undertaking apprenticeships involving hazardous work.

Interns, trainees and student workers who are at or above the age of 18 years are adults who should be afforded the same protections for their safety and well-being as other adults being trained to undertake the same type of hazardous work.


Child labour and youth employment

Question: A company is committed not to recruit people below 18 years old. But the company operates in States where people below 18 have the right to work. Can it be considered as a breach to ILO Conventions related to discrimination? What should be the right position for the company?

Answer: Discrimination at work includes any “distinction, exclusion or preference … which has the effect of nullifying or impairing equality of opportunity or treatment in employment or occupation.”[1] Discrimination occurs when a person is treated less favorably than others because of characteristics that are not closely related to the inherent requirements of the job or when the same condition, treatment or criterion results in a disproportionately harsh impact on some persons. Discrimination based on age often occurs and hence safeguards against such discrimination are encouraged.[2]

The provision of work opportunities for adolescents under adequate conditions, rather than excluding them entirely from employment opportunities, is one of the effective measures to eliminate child labour, including its worst forms. Companies can play an important role in promoting youth employment by providing non-hazardous decent work opportunities to young people between the minimum age and 18. Companies are encouraged to increase employment opportunities and standards, taking into account the employment policies and objectives of the government[3]; in many countries, increasing youth employment is a central policy goal.

The company should respect the minimum age set by law, normally 15 but in some countries it is set at 14 and others at 16. If the minimum age set by the national law is below this level (the age of 15 in developed countries or 14 in developing countries), the company should apply the minimum of 15, or exceptionally 14 for developing countries.[4]

The age of 18 should be applied if and where the work or tasks in question are considered as hazardous—defined as work which, by its nature or the circumstances in which it is carried out, is likely to harm the health, safety or morals of children—or as any other worst form of child labour.[5] Furthermore, the age of 18 could also be imposed for a specific post if it can be considered as an inherent requirement of the job. In any other circumstances, this limitation would be discriminatory.

[1] Discrimination (Employment and Occupation) Convention, 1958 (No. 111), Article 1(1).
[2] See, ILO General Survey on Equality in Employment and Occupation, 1996, para. 243.
[3] See ILO Tripartite Declaration of Principles Concerning Multinational Enterprises and Social Policy, paragraph 16.
[4] See, ILO Minimum Age Convention, 1973 (No. 138).
[5] See, ILO Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention, 1999 (No. 182).

Question: What is the ILO's labour standard on working hours and overtime for young persons (under 18 years old but above 16 years old)?

Answer: Measures should be taken to ensure that the conditions in which young persons under the age of 18 years are employed are supervised closely. This includes:

  • “strict limitation of the hours spent at work in a day and in a week, and the prohibition of overtime, so as to allow enough time for education and training (including the time needed for homework related thereto), for rest during the day and for leisure activities” and
  • “the granting, without possibility of exception save in genuine emergency, of a minimum consecutive period of 12 hours' night rest, and of customary weekly rest days.”

In determining whether work is hazardous, consideration should be given to whether it is performed “under particularly difficult conditions such as work for long hours.” The minimum age for hazardous work is 18 years of age.