Elimination of child labour is one of the four fundamental principles, set in the core conventions of the International Labour Organisation. To contribute to this objective, the agricultural practices and policies should accommodate the ILO language and expertise in the field of labour relations.
In 1921, with the adoption of Convention 11, the ILO recognised the need for special attention to be given to ensuring what was then called "the right of association and combination" for agricultural workers. This need remains as pressing today as it was in 1921. Freedom of association which guarantees agricultural workers the right to trade union representation to be freely exercised through creating and joining trade unions is desperately needed so that agricultural and rural workers can build up their bargaining power with their employers and have an effective political voice with governments to advocate for polices that will ensure decent rural employment for adults, quality education for rural children, and the elimination of child labour in agriculture.
One good example of trade union organising efforts with a direct effect on the elimination of child labour is the initiative of the Ghana Agricultural Workers’ Unions in the Lake Volta fishing communities known as the Torkor Model. This example has laid the ground for an international discussion and a set of policy recommendations on the ways to address child labour in agriculture developed in Accra at the regional workshop of the International Partnership for Elimination of Child Labour in Agriculture (IPCCLA). IPCCLA is a platform for sharing knowledge, expertise, and resources https://childlabourinagriculture.org/ which can be replicated at national and local levels through encouraging partnerships between state authorities in charge of labour relations and agricultural development and trade unions.
The ILO Convention on No. 182 on the worst forms of child labour recognises that the elimination of child labour will only be achieved in a sustainable way, if it is embedded in a broadly based policy framework that takes into account the needs of affected children and their families. Consequently, the Convention requires ratifying States to design and implement action programmes to eliminate the worst forms of child labour as a priority and establish or designate appropriate mechanisms for monitoring the implementation of the Convention. It also stipulates that ratifying States should take time-bound measures for child labour prevention; provide support for the removal of children from the worst forms of child labour and their rehabilitation; ensure access to free basic education or vocational training for all children removed from the worst forms of child labour; identify children who face a particular risk; and take into account the special situation of girls.
A broad public campaign initiated by trade unions and expanded through the involvement of international brands and textile companies forced Uzbekistan to ratify ILO Convention 182 in 2008. The ratification became a starting point on a journey which eventually liberated more than 2 million children from forced labour in cotton fields and is now proceeding to guide efforts towards the elimination of adult forced labour. However, forced child labour still persists in the cotton fields of several other countries that should be encouraged to follow the example of Uzbekistan.
The ILO Convention No. 182 goes beyond the scope of nation-wide measures, calling for broader international cooperation and/or assistance with the view of facilitating the implementation of its provisions, including support for social and economic development, poverty eradication, and education. It also provides for broad consultations among the governments and workers’ and employers’ organisations in the ILO tripartite structure.
A stronger effort is needed to address the roots of child labour in global value chains. For instance, child labour in tobacco sourcing farms and plantations was recognised by the International Labour Organisation as one of the decent work deficits in 2003. In 2016-2019 the ILO again included a discussion on the integrated strategy for the elimination of these decent work deficits in the tobacco sector into the agenda of several meetings of its Governing Body. In July 2019, the international tripartite meeting brought together governments, trade unions and employers’ organisations for a discussion which concluded that child labour remains wide spread in the sector. In the globalised economy, manufacturing companies increase their control over the entire supply chain and should implement proper due diligence measures to ensure full respect of human rights, including the freedom of association, and address all the risks of a potential negative impact of their business activity. This should include redistribution of profits and fair taxation throughout the supply chain. Child labour in agriculture cannot be tackled in isolation from the problem of rural poverty of adult workers, the need to cover rural population by social protection schemes. To eliminate child labour, the main priority has to be given to the improvement of living and working conditions of adult workers which, then, would eliminate the need for children to work. It is not just that workers should have the right and opportunity to achieve this through organising themselves in trade unions, but trade unions should also be recognised as an equal element of a fair labour relations system, in compliance with the ILO Conventions on the right to organise (87) and bargain collectively (98).
Mr. Kirill Buketov