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Progress with Child Labor ‘Flatlining’ in World’s Manufacturing Hubs

Progress with eliminating child labor has stalled in manufacturing countries “most entwined” with global supply chains, according to a new report cautioning businesses of their potential complicity in violations of international law.

In a recent report by Verisk Maplecroft, the 2019 Child Labour Index registered “no tangible improvement” in manufacturing hubs, like Bangladesh, China, Cambodia, India and Vietnam since 2016, when the research consultancy first began compiling comparable data.

A total of 27 out of 198 countries—accounting for more than 10 percent of the world’s population—were found by the index to pose an “extreme risk,” with North Korea, Somalia and South Sudan framed as the top three worst offenders.

Despite their economic progress, China and India made no strides in the child-labor department, ranking 98th and 47th, respectively, and considered “high risk” overall. Similarly, Ethiopia (30), Bangladesh (44), Turkey (63) and Vietnam (81) revealed no change in their high risk of children being exploited or forced to work out of necessity.

“The economic momentum of many countries is yet to trickle down to the poorest in society and any meaningful headway on labor rights issues, including child labor, remains elusive,” Oscar Larsson, human rights data analyst at Verisk Maplecroft, said in a statement. “Child labor is still prevalent across many sectors and if countries aren’t taking action it is up to companies to see they have the tools to ensure it’s not happening under their watch.”

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Venezuela saw the highest risk in child labor risk, falling 80 places in the index since 2016 to 7th worldwide as a result of continuing socio-political instability.

It wasn’t all bad news, however. The index found that 52 countries registered “significant improvements” between 2017 and 2019. Those include Liberia, which rose 44 places to 58th, Myanmar, which improved from third-highest risk globally in 2018 to 27th this year, and Madagascar, which moved 20 places since 2017 to 45th.

Scores were calculated by assessing a country’s adoption of laws and international treaties, their ability and will to enforce these laws through government agencies and the frequency and severity of recorded violations.

The International Labour Organization (ILO) defines child labor as employment that “limits or damages the physical, mental, moral, social or psychological development of children.” Setting the minimum age for work at 15, it estimates there are roughly 150 million child laborers around the world, particularly on farms in Africa and Asia.

The ILO has said the world is unlikely to meet a target of eradicating child labor—one of 17 United Nations global development goals—by 2025.