Raheem Akingbolu writes on how corporate bodies could complement government’s efforts in tackling the problem of child labour through best practices
The International Labour Organisation (ILO) estimates that 170 million young people are in one form of child labour or another, clearly indicating that this menace is still a difficult nut to crack. Experts attribute the prevalence of child labour to the global economic meltdown of 2008 and the consequent financial dire straits it pushed people into.
ILO defines child labour as “labour that jeopardises the physical, mental or moral well-being of a child, either because of its nature or because of the conditions in which it is carried out” and describes it as “hazardous work”. Article 3 of ILO Convention No. 182, in part, describes any “work which, by its nature or the circumstances in which it is carried out, is likely to harm the health, safety or morals of children”, as the worst forms of child labour.
Although adults and child labourers face the same health risks, the latter do so on a much higher scale. Children by their nature are often more vulnerable to certain work conditions that adults could endure.
Consensus on Child’s Rights
The severity of the phenomenon of child labour is underlined by the existence of a general consensus on child’s rights, namely the Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989) and Declaration of the Rights of the Child (1959), which marked the first major international consensus on the fundamental principles of children’s rights. The Declaration of the Rights of the Child shields children from all forms of exploitation, especially politically and economically. The Convention on the Rights of Child, which was developed by ILO, addresses issues such as minimum age for admission to employment and the worst forms of child labour. Article 32 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child gives the child – defined as anyone below the age of 18 years – the right to be protected from economic exploitation. ILO implores countries to ratify it and take positive action to both end child labour and support the rehabilitation and education of former child labourers.
Child Labour in Nigeria
Nigeria is a signatory to the Convention on the Rights of the Child alongside 195 other countries. The pact notwithstanding, there is child labour in the country just as it is with many developing countries and indeed some developed countries such as Canada. In 2006, the number of child workers in Nigeria was estimated at about 15 million. Child labour in Nigeria thrives on poverty and is a major source of income among indigent families. The US Department of Labour in its 2010 report claims Nigeria is witnessing the worst forms of child labour, particularly in agriculture and domestic service. In rural areas, many children work in cultivation of crops such as cassava, cocoa among other staples. Children are also reportedly working in farms that have cash crops as their mainstay.
Some of these include rubber, tobacco, oil palm and several others. The difference between working in cash crop farms and others is that the income that ought to legitimately go to the child labourers doesn’t get to them because they are too young to demand for their wages. In the case of food crops, the children may be working to get food directly from farms for their families. Researchers on child labour have often accused tobacco firms of feigning ignorance of the practice, or of never investigating operations at the plantations, in spite of being aware that child labour is rife.
Determined to lead the change against child labour in the tobacco supply chain, British American Tobacco Nigeria (BATN) deemed it necessary to accord the issue its deserved priority. The company’s sustainability award, tagged BATN Farmers’ Awards, is an initiative designed to celebrate tobacco farmers for their dedication to stopping child labour practices and other agreed criteria such as their productivity.
This year’s award, which held recently in Iseyin, Oyo State, brought together scores of farmers from the town, the Okeogun region of Oyo State and beyond. The award ceremony platform was used to reemphasise the ills of child labour and the benefits of sound education for the children of tobacco farmers, and also to celebrate and reward farmers for their commitment to complying with policies and regulations on child labour and their productivity.
Area Head, Corporate Affairs, BAT West Africa, SeyiAshade, stated that BATN was averse to child labour, noting that the organisation had shown great determination to discourage it by, “creating massive awareness on the ills of child labour and the benefits of sound education for the children”. She added that BATN carries out random, unannounced checks at farms in a bid to ensure farmers’ compliance with stipulated codes of conduct.
“Child labour is a practice BATN is against. We are not opposed to parents involving their children in their source of livelihood; we are however against actions that deny children access to quality education. We have organised seminars to educate the farmers on the ills of child labour and the proper way to integrate their children into their business. At the last random, unannounced spot check, we recorded a success rate of 99 per cent”, she stated further.
Tobacco companies have often times been accused of not tracking the source of the tobacco they purchase, thereby making it difficult to ascertain that it is not by the sweat of a child’s brow. However, BATN, through its long and close association with tobacco farmers, has been able to develop effective mechanism for monitoring them and checking the menace of child labour in tobacco farms. Director of Operations, BATN, Charles Kyalo, gave this hint in his opening remarks at the occasion.
“At BATN, we have a proud history with the farmers who we like to call our valued business partners. It remains important to celebrate these partners who play a key role in ensuring we deliver quality products to adult consumers. BATN has for years taken the responsibility of educating tobacco farmers about the ills of child labour. It has consistently ensured that children are shut out of tobacco supply chain.”
Kyalo also expressed BATN’s commitment to, “Continue working with the Nigerian government and other agriculture development-focused organisations to grow the agricultural sector and support the Nigerian economy.”
Evaluation and Commendation
Also lending their voices to the child labour compliance campaign were members of the National Assembly. Senator Gbolahan Dada (Ogun West), in a goodwill message, lauded BATN’s awareness programme on child labour policy compliance among farmers. He urged the company not to relent, while emphasising the critical role education plays in the current administration’s agricultural revolution. HonourableAbiodunOlasupo (Iseyin/Itesiwaju/Kajola/Iwajowa Federal Constituency) emphasised the need for farmers in his constituency to accord greater priority to the education of their children and wards, and urged BATN to remain steadfast in its support to farmers.