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Sustainable Development Goals

Building a global alliance against child labour and forced labour

Beate Andrees, Chief of the ILO’s Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work Branch explains how we can achieve target 8.7 of the United Nations’ SDGs which calls for an end to forced labour and child labour by 2025.

Comment | 04 November 2015
Beate Andrees, Chief of the ILO’s Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work Branch
While heads of state were delivering their speeches at the UN Sustainable Development Summit in New York in September 2015, the ILO convened a small meeting with partners to talk business: How can the global community achieve target 8.7 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which calls for an end of all forms of forced labour, modern slavery and child labour by 2025? How is this target connected to the other SDGs? How will the necessary resources be mobilized to ensure that commitment leads to action?

Significant progress has already been achieved in recent decades, as declining numbers of child labour suggest, but the challenge is nevertheless daunting:
  • 21 million people are victims of forced labour, 5.5 million of whom are children
  • the illicit profits generated by forced labour and modern slavery amount to at least US$ 150 billion a year
  • and 168 million children are still in child labour, 85 million of them in hazardous work and other worst forms of child labour, while 83 million are simply too young to be working.
The underlying root causes of child labour and forced labour are often related to violations of other fundamental rights. Hundreds of millions of people suffer from discrimination in the world of work, while half of the world’s population lives in countries that have not ratified either of the ILO’s two Conventions protecting freedom of association and collective bargaining.

A need for strong partnerships

As the world comes together to adopt universal goals considered mutually reinforcing, the SDGs hold a unique promise: Policy integration is possible. Such a vision requires strong partnerships. Hence the idea of launching the Alliance 8.7 as a platform for those actors already involved in the struggle against child labour and forced labour, and those who would like to join it.

The Alliance 8.7 proposal received strong support from the participants gathered in New York. The consultation process will now continue at the global and regional levels, gradually involving a greater number of partners.

Alliance 8.7’s mission is to assist all member States of the United Nations in making measurable advances for achieving target 8.7, thereby significantly decreasing the prevalence of child labour and forced labour in the coming years. We can reach this goal through effective advocacy, innovative programmes and policy initiatives as well as coordinated mobilization of resources. Progress will be measured against a set of agreed criteria and methodologies.

Clearly, Alliance 8.7 will be connected to other SDGs and targets. Imagine a big tent with different poles, with the top goal for the ILO to achieve decent work for all, and the Alliance 8.7 being a supporting pole. Using the same image, Alliance 8.7 could become a tent for many smaller issue-based alliances which have emerged in recent years, such as the International Partnership for Cooperation on Child Labour in Agriculture or the Inter-Agency Coordination Group against Trafficking.

Bringing the knowledge and resources of those initiatives together could turn out to be a game changer in the fight against child labour and modern slavery. Furthermore, by linking the Alliance to the target on fundamental freedoms (16.10) and discrimination (goal 5 and target 8.5), it will be possible to address some of the systemic root causes of child labour and forced labour. This does not exclude the possibility of building other partnerships around the issues of discrimination, freedom of association and collective bargaining, and other labour rights.

Who is going to build the tent? It’s a collective responsibility but someone has to start: Given the ILO’s mandate and experience, it is well placed to start driving poles into the ground, through preparatory meetings and developing a comprehensive strategy towards reaching target 8.7.

Building on lessons learnt

The strategy needs to reflect lessons learnt from national policy initiatives. Countries like Brazil, Mexico, Ghana, Côte d’Ivoire, India or Indonesia have developed integrated policy responses and as a result, achieved notable progress in the fight against child labour and/or forced labour. This was done through a combination of legal and social protection measures, community-based interventions and national level advocacy.

Many others have shown commitment by adopting the 2012 Resolution on fundamental principles and rights at work of the International Labour Conference and the 2014 Protocol to the Forced Labour Convention, 1930. The 2013 Brasilia Declaration provides further guidance on the eradication of child labour.

The next milestone is the World Conference on Child Labour in 2017, hosted by Argentina. These commitments, as well as those made in other fora, will need to be incorporated into the strategy. To this aim, coordination with UN partner agencies and the social partners is crucial. This also concerns data and monitoring: Partners have to agree on a set of quality criteria and on new ways of sharing data. The ILO is already paving the way with a consultative process leading to the publication of new global estimates on child labour and forced labour in 2017.

One key element of building an inclusive Alliance is financing. The Outcome Document of the recent Addis Ababa Conference on Financing for Development provides some ideas as regards resource mobilization. Traditional funding sources will still play a major role; however, new forms of development collaboration, including through “blended” financing models, will have to be further explored.

Finally, think of the tent again: Its poles reinforce each other and hold the top. The same will apply to the Alliance. While some important details still need to be worked out, ultimately, what matters most is that we build a solid and inclusive tent which will be effective in preventing and fighting forced labour, child labour and other labour rights violations around the globe.