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New Map Highlights Child Labor Risks in Cotton Supply Chains

Efforts to eliminate child labor are always ongoing but the fact remains that children are still toiling in supply chains the world over, though some countries are worse offenders than others.

To visualize where those risks are worse, in the cotton sector specifically, global risk advisor Verisk Maplecroft created a Child Labor Index highlighting the prevalence of underage work among the top 10 cotton producing countries.

China, Burkina Faso, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Pakistan and India were all labeled “extreme risk” with moderate legal framework but very little enforcement of the labor laws intended to prevent premature work, and wages that are too low. Brazil and Turkey were both designated “high risk,” and in Brazil especially, enforcement falters. In the U.S., the prevalence of child labor is considered “medium risk” though legal framework in place to protect it is lower than in the extreme risk regions. Australia ranked “low risk” for child labor.

Legal framework, it seems, holds little weight in countries where corruption is rampant and where it’s also not uncommon for law enforcement to look the other way when it comes to working conditions.

“Government enforcement efforts are a much greater predictor of the prevalence of child labor violations in a given country than an adequate national legal framework to prevent child labor,” according to Verisk.

Uzbekistan, for example, notorious for forced and child labor, ratified all the right conventions and all the necessary legal provisions after accusations of child labor in its cotton industry, and while the move has eliminated young children from the supply chain, 15- to 17-year-olds are still found in the cotton fields during harvest.

Australia on the other hand, doesn’t have a minimum employment age, which could technically be considered a weaker legal labor framework than Uzbekistan’s, but young workers are exposed to less risk since school attendance is mandatory until age 17.

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Adequate wages and working conditions also appear directly linked to child labor prevalence.

“The provision of decent work is also an important indicator of child labor risks,” the report noted. “The risk of child labor violations is lower in countries where adult workers receive adequate wages that help them support their families.”

The International Labour Organization’s (ILO) World Day Against Child Labor—which happens this Sunday—is focused on child labor in supply chains this year.

A substantial 168 million children are still engaged in underage employment, so there’s hardly a supply chain that isn’t susceptible.

“Child labor has no place in well-functioning and well regulated markets, or in any supply chain,” ILO director-general Guy Ryder said.