Nearly 100 representatives from multinational garment corporations, social audit firms, garment manufacturers, trade unions, civil society, government agencies and the United Nations attended the International Consultation on Roadmap 2016 and the Garment-Manufacturing Sector organised by Global March Against Child Labour. The one-day consultation was held in New Delhi, India, on 11 May 2011 – the first anniversary of the acclamation of Roadmap 2016 at the Global Child Labour Conference in The Hague, Netherlands, 10-11 May 2010. Marking this special anniversary was important to Global March and its members in terms of reminding the international community of its renewed commitments last year to accelerating efforts and support to eliminating the worst forms of child labour by 2016.
Opening speakers launch call for action
The event benefited from rich contributions from experts on child labour, decent work standards, government policy and legislation and garment manufacturing processes. In his opening address, Global March Chairperson Mr Kailash Satyarthi called on participants to unite in their efforts to tackle child labour in the garment supply chain in India, regionally and globally and to strengthen coherence and collaboration between stakeholders and programmes in this endeavour.
Echoing the comments by Mr Satyarthi, Ms Tine Staermose, Director of the International Labour Organisation’s (ILO) Decent Work Team for South Asia and Country Office for India, highlighted the importance of meaningful partnerships to target child labour between different agencies and stakeholders. She reminded participants of the high population of child labourers in India and in the wider Asia-Region and, with world business increasingly focused on sourcing goods and services from India and South Asia, she emphasised the importance for national partnerships on child labour to have a regional and global face.
Addressing participants on behalf of the Indian government, Mr Ashok Singh, Chairman of the Central Board for Workers’ Education, Ministry of Labour and Employment, underlined the importance that the government attaches to the issue and efforts to address it. He welcomed the consultation and its focus areas and expressed the hope that the outcomes would contribute to national responses to the child labour problem. Representing the Embassy of the Netherlands in New Delhi which supported the establishment of the national multi-stakeholder initiative on child labour in the garment sector, Mr Tom Maasen, Head of the Political Section, welcomed the progress made by the group over the past 18 months and hoped it would continue its important work. The Dutch Embassy appreciated the focus on Roadmap 2016 and its follow-up given the involvement of the Dutch government in this event in 2010 as the host country and co-organiser with the ILO.
‘Business as usual’ is not an option
In introducing the objectives of the consultation, rapporteur, Mr Peter McAllister, Executive Director of the Ethical Trade Initiative (ETI) in the UK, and Global March Director Mr Nick Grisewood emphasised the importance of reviewing the needs and expectations of stakeholders and identifying effective ways to address these. Change is clearly vital as child labour remains a problem in the garment supply chain. The consultation programme had been designed to facilitate discussions on building, documenting and promoting successful models of intervention and to encourage broader and deeper collaboration among and between existing multi-stakeholder initiatives to avoid duplication of effort and resources. As the areas of corporate social responsibility and ethical trade are still relatively recent, it would be important for stakeholders to review progress to date and use this knowledge to help shape the evolution of these areas which are increasingly important in business and development decision-making. A further objective was to take into account the roles and responsibilities of different stakeholders and potentially to consider the broader regional context in child labour elimination in the garment supply chain.
Panel discussion brings together different stakeholder perspectives
An important element of the review process involved a panel discussion bringing together representatives from the main stakeholder groups. The aim was to focus on policy and legislative aspects of child labour elimination in the garment sector and ensure the presentation of different perspectives of the challenges that still exist and how these might be addressed. The panel was moderated by Mr Frans Roselaers, Global March Governing Board member and former Director of the ILO’s International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC).
Included on the panel were:
- Mr Ben Smith, Senior Corporate Social Responsibility Officer, ILO-IPEC;
- Mr Piyush Sharma, Joint Labour Commissioner, Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi;
- Mr Peter McAllister, Executive Director, ETI;
- Ms Chandrima Chatterjee, Director (Compliance), Apparel Export Promotion Council (AEPC), India;
- Mr N.M. Muddappa, General Secretary, Garment Workers Union (GWU), Karnataka, India;
- Ms Lakshmi Menon Bhatia, Advisor, Social Responsibility, Gap Inc., and Director, Stakeholder Engagement, Fair Labor Association (FLA).
Mr Smith welcomed the initiative of the Global March and the focus on the follow-up to Roadmap 2016 in the context of the garment sector. He highlighted the challenge of child labour in informal manufacturing processes and the need for broader collective action when it overlaps with the formal supply chains, linking into national development efforts on poverty reduction, education and social protection. He emphasised the key importance of collective action, pointing out that although the government is the primary guardian of children’s rights, it cannot fulfil its role without the support of national social partners and civil society actors. The central focus of collective action and shared responsibility is underscored in Roadmap 2016 which references supply chain action, including collaboration with the business community, further reinforcing the timely organisation of the consultation and its call for dialogue on common action by stakeholders.
Drawing on the experience of ETI, an alliance of companies, trade unions and voluntary organisations working together to improve labour standards in different sectors, Mr McAllister listed key points to be addressed in tackling child labour in the garment supply chain, including: capacity-building of different actors in the supply chain; establishing relationships between supply chain actors and other stakeholders; and ensuring transparency of the supply chain and the large-scale contracting that make the supply chain more vulnerable to situations of child labour and poor working conditions. He suggested that multi-stakeholder initiatives should provide a freer space and shared responsibilities for all stakeholders leading to concrete action.
‘Convergence’ will strengthen child labour elimination
Indian legislation targets child labour and children’s development generally and Mr Sharma highlighted the key references in his presentation, including the right to free and compulsory education to the age of 14. He also pointed out to participants that the Indian government is giving serious consideration to the ratification of ILO Convention No. 182 on Worst Forms of Child Labour. He echoed calls for greater convergence to carry out more effective and sustainable action against child labour, including convergence between government departments, between laws and between the government, civil society and parents. Turning attention to child labour in the garment sector and the role of corporate social responsibility, Mr Sharma emphasised the need for employers to ensure decent working conditions for workers, including paying at least the minimum wage and, where possible, to pay a living wage as in many instances the minimum wage rates are insufficient. He also stated that companies should track their contractors and sub-contractors down to the very last link in the supply chain, pointing out that ultimate responsibility in the chain lies with the principle employer.
Turning to the industry, Ms Chatterjee explained some of the main challenges facing industry actors in the garment sector, in particular: the seasonal nature of the industry; a legislative framework which is largely unenforceable; the small-and-medium scale profile of the enterprises; non-transparency in the unorganised and lower tiers of the supply chain; and the lack of partnership. She called for greater trust and engagement in the industry and between stakeholders, reinforcing partnerships and encouraging a sense of shared responsibility and long-term commitment in ridding the supply chain of child labour.
Reflecting on the difficult situation of many workers in the industry, Mr Muddappa spoke of his experiences as a union leader in the garment industry in South India and the challenges faced by workers, especially the many young and vulnerable women in this sector. Workers often came to the union to complain of abusive behaviour by managers and employers, verbal and physical. Working conditions were exploitative, including long overtime hours which were not properly reimbursed. Work environments in many instances, particularly further down the supply chain, were unhealthy and did not take into account the needs and expectations of a workforce made up of mainly women and migrant workers. In addition, Mr Muddappa pointed out that many employers did not allow their workers to join trade unions and refused entry to their work sites by the GWU. Trade unions are central to efforts to improve the application of core labour standards along the garment supply chain and it is vital that the issue of organising is addressed. In closing the panel presentations, Ms Bhatia highlighted three primary areas for action against child labour in the garment supply chain: convergence of relevant policies and practices; collaboration among and between stakeholders; and improved communications at all levels.
Working group outcomes
In organising the consultation, Global March felt that it was important for the two main stakeholder groups – industry and non-industry actors – to benefit from a facilitated discussion based on relevant perspectives, concerns, needs and expectations for the future. Therefore, two working groups were held involving in-depth exchanges and discussions not only on the range of issues raised during the panel discussion, but on other areas of interest as well, and to begin to identify solutions that could address key challenges. Initial discussions also took place on the next steps to move the child labour elimination agenda forward.
The non-industry working group included representatives of governments, non-governmental organisations and trade unions, while the industry group included retailers, buying agents, manufacturers, social audit firms and consultancies. Following the rich and often animated exchanges within the working groups, report back sessions took place involving all participants and the main outcomes of these were summarised by the consultation rapporteur Mr McAllister.
The garment sector as a whole echoed the expectation that business would comply with national law and international conventions.
All stakeholders recognise that child labour is a complex problem, but all agree it has no place in the garment supply chain.
The industry group recognised the limitations of stakeholders working alone and highlighted the need for effective partnerships. In a similar vein, the non-industry group proposed strengthening and expanding existing multi-stakeholder initiatives as an effective and efficient way forward. Both groups issued a cautionary note about the need to build trust and confidence for effective collaboration which further reinforced the call for building on existing initiatives
While the non-industry group called for greater focus further down the supply chain, below tier 1, and greater transparency, the industry group wished to explore how responsibility would be shared down the supply chain, particularly at lower tier levels where problems become a mix of workplace and societal issues. Nevertheless, it was agreed that there should be greater collaboration between industry and non-industry below tier 1 to support effective and sustainable change, for example in particular areas of risk, such as home-workers.
There was common agreement on the need to share knowledge and ensure key concepts and issues are understood to promote collaboration, communications, coherence and knowledge management. An example was given of joint programmes between industry and non-industry partners that promote awareness, understanding and learning. These partnerships benefit from relationships built on confidence, trust and mutual respect between stakeholders. It was felt that it would be beneficial to advance efforts in the short-term to strengthen and deepen the scope of these joint programmes, particularly that focusing specifically on child labour, at the national level in India and with a medium-term view to future scaling up to the regional level across Asia.
It was suggested that there should be an increased role of advocacy for remediation of child labourers found working in the supply chain in line with the expressed need to engage with the government recognising their unique role in implementing the legal and policy framework and providing relevant public services, including education, social protection and health.
In his closing remarks, Mr Satyarthi welcomed the commitment, trust and engagement shown by participants representing all stakeholder groups on the elimination of child labour in the garment supply chain. The consultation had provided a unique opportunity for stakeholders to consider progress made to date and, in a context of engagement, responsibility and accountability, to discuss what still needs to be done and how to achieve the goals of Roadmap 2016. He acknowledged the shared understanding that progress would benefit significantly from efforts to broaden and deepen the scope of the existing national multi-stakeholder initiative on child labour in the garment sector, ensuring participation of other supply chain actors.
He highlighted the importance of the key themes that emerged during the consultation, including transparency, partnerships and collective action by all key stakeholders, and agreed that a greater focus on these in future would build a more robust platform at national, regional and global level. He expressed his appreciation to all participants for their engagement in the discussions and their shared commitment to end child labour, but underlined the hopes of Global March in organising the event that the consultation would not be an end in itself. Pointing out that it was vital that dialogue and consultation continued, Mr Satyarthi called for concrete time-bound action from all stakeholders that would ensure follow-up to the consultation and that sustainable measures would be taken to eliminate child labour in garment-manufacturing.