The role of Employers' organizations

Briefing note | 08 June 2015
Employers and their organizations have an indispensable role to play in the fight against child labour. Obviously, the best way for individual enterprises to contribute is to adhere strictly to national laws and regulations which restrict conditions under which children can be employed. Where the employment of children is not proscribed, they should ensure that children are kept away from any dangerous substance or machinery and ensure that their school attendance is not prejudiced.
Employers realize that, apart from obvious humanitarian and social concerns, combating child labour makes good business sense. Children who are left uneducated or are damaged physically or emotionally by early and hazardous work have little chance of becoming productive adult workers. They realize increasingly, too, that public exposure to the use of child labour can cause immeasurable damage to the company image. The most effective role that major companies can play is in setting high standards on workers' rights and on the use of child labour in their own operations and to seek to extend those standards generally among the business community, including subcontractors. Several leading corporations have taken this step by voluntarily establishing their own codes of practice.

Employers' organizations face a particular challenge in carrying the message to small enterprises in the informal sector, where most children in paid work are found and where labour law enforcement is frequently weak.

Facing child labour:
Employers’ reactions and interrogations

Child labour could be a confusing issue for a typical business owner. He or she may not know the legal age of work or how hazardous work is defined for workers below the age of 18. For a business that is aware that it is employing children, the options of what to do with current workers may also be a concern. Should the enterprise simply let them go? Does it have a responsibility to them? Is there an organization helping to ensure the welfare of children who are laid off? An employers’ organization can be a first point of contact and information for its members on these questions.

3 reasons for employers’ organizations to combat child labour!

1. It is illegal!
The first reason to stop child labour is that it is against the law, and an employers’ organization cannot encourage its members to operate outside of the law.
2. The international market
International buyers and brands wish to meet accepted international labour standards and also to avoid bad publicity and potential boycotts.
3. A capable adult workforce / improving productivity
Enterprises, especially informal ones, often hire children because they think that it improves their profitability. This is usually a short-term perspective. Child labour detracts from long-term enterprise success because it inhibits the development of a trained and productive workforce of adult workers.

Advocacy, a weapon against child labour

As one of the main roles of an employers’ organization is advocacy, it can advocate for the effective elimination of child labour. In doing so, it can engage in tripartite dialogue on the issue, provide advice on legislation and encourage the Government to ratify ILO child labour conventions.