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New Comply Chain Tool to Help Brands Root Out Child Labor

Child labor and modern slavery continue to plague global industries and the U.S. Department of Labor is demanding more ethical supply chains.

On Wednesday, the Labor Department published an update on its yearly child labor report—which provides a detailed analysis of child labor in more than 130 countries. In addition to the report update, the Labor Department released Comply Chain, a new mobile app designed to help businesses minimize child labor and modern slavery from their international supply chains.

The Labor Department’s announcement follows figures recently released by the International Labor Organization (ILO), that estimated more than 152 million child laborers and 25 million forced laborers exist worldwide. Even though instances of global child labor have come down nearly 40 percent (94 million fewer children), since the ILO began evaluating global child labor more than 15 years ago, the pace of change has declined over the past four years.

“Although we have made significant progress, the 2016 ILO figures show that child labor and modern slavery persist. These practices generate profit for the perpetrators, rob children of their innocence, adults of their dignity, and create an uneven playing field for businesses that play by the rules,” U.S. Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta said. “This report and new app chart a path forward by creating a fast track to more effective action.”

What countries have done and what can be improved

The latest child labor report acknowledges the anti-child labor efforts of 135 countries and territories worldwide and measures whether each nation has made significant, moderate, minimal or no progress over the past 12 months. The report also provides countries with substantial measures that are required to advance anti-child labor efforts. Last year, 23 nations made significant progress in their efforts against child labor and modern slavery.

In 2017, less than a third of nations evaluated had efficiently staffed labor inspectors and less than half allow their inspectorates to determine penalties for child labor violations. The report also determines new concerning trends that have emerged over the past year, including children being used for drug trafficking and pornography in their nations.

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To combat child labor violations, the report suggested more than 1,700 country-specific steps that governments can put in place. More than 1,000 recommendations relate to improvements in law enforcement and holding child labor abusers accountable for their actions.

[Read more on how the industry is cracking down on worker violations: Los Angeles Garment Factories Fined for Labor Violations After Crackdown]

Child labor progress by region

Asia & the Pacific and Sub-Saharan Africa were found to have the most children involved in child labor—with 62.1 million children engaged in each region.

In Asia & the Pacific’s 32 nations, only 6 percent of significant advancement has been made in anti-child labor efforts. While 47 percent of the nations have improved minimum age laws, removed children from child labor through inspections and launched national action plans against child labor, existing gaps remain. The Labor Department urges these nations to legally prohibit the use of children in production facilities, while providing labor inspectors the right to conduct inspections in factories.

Sub-Saharan Africa’s 32 nations yielded similar results—with only six percent of countries achieving significant measures against child labor. While the region’s nations have expanded existing social programs to prevent child labor and boosted resources for criminal law enforcement against child labor, the report said key international conventions on child labor have still not been ratified. What’s more, children are still recruited and used in armed conflict, which remains a child labor issue at large in the region.

For the Caribbean & Latin America region, more than 10 million children between the ages of five and seventeen are involved in child labor. Even though 38 percent of the region’s 26 countries have made significant progress in adopting laws prohibiting child labor and increasing efforts to enforce criminal laws related to child trafficking, significant challenges remain for this region. The report suggests these nations identify the types of a hazardous work prohibited for children and hire more labor inspectors for the size of the workforce to target potential child labor.

Europe & Eurasia, along with the Middle East & North Africa, had the least number of children involved in child labor.

Countries in Europe & Eurasia have 5.5 million children engaged in child labor. While a majority of countries in the region have made significant progress in conducting national child labor surveys and training law enforcement, they still lack fully functioning labor inspectorates and prohibitions with using children for production.

The Middle East & North Africa region has the least number of children involved in child labor—3.3 million. Fifty percent of the region’s nations have made moderate advancement against child labor, including publishing research on child labor and providing refugee children with more education. The Labor Department urges these nations to also reform their hazardous work prohibitions and limit production capacity to further protect at-risk children.

How the Comply Chain app works

The Labor Department’s new supply chain app is expected to help businesses develop robust social compliance systems in their supply chains.

Dubbed Comply Chain: Business Tools for Labor Compliance in Global Supply Chains, the app helps companies, including apparel suppliers, in identifying and preventing child labor abuses associated with the products they produce. The app, which is available to download for free on both Android and iOS platforms, provides step-by-step guidance on eight important social compliance elements: engaging stakeholders and partners, assessing risks and impacts, creating a code of conduct, communicating and training across the supply chain, tracking compliance, remediating violations, independent review and reporting performance. It also features examples of ethical practices that companies have put in place for social compliance.

In addition to the eight social compliance elements, the app also helps companies define the scope of their own social compliance system. With the app, companies can understand the key components of a social compliance system, become familiar with cross-industry social compliance programs, understand the personal requirements for a strong social compliance system and recognize management systems that would make their social compliance systems work in the future. Additional resources, including the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) universal compliance standards and global supply chain journals, are also available in the app for companies seeking guidance on child labor prevention.

The Labor Department also updated their Sweat & Toil app, which features information on goods produced by child labor and updated findings on governments’ anti-child labor efforts. On the updated app, businesses can check countries’ efforts to curb child labor, access child labor data, review laws and ratifications and identify goods associated with child labor in their nations.