Due diligence in the garment industry: Challenges and opportunities in protecting child rights
Video – CORE Webinar: Due Diligence in Garment Industry | Transcript
On February 21, 2022, the Canadian Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise hosted a virtual side event during the 8th OECD Forum on Due Diligence in the Garment and Footwear Sector (.pdf). This event was informed by the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (.pdf) and OECD Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Supply Chains in the Garment and Footwear Sector. Given increasing demands on garment companies and the fashion industry as a whole for greater transparency and accountability, and greater movement towards human rights due diligence (HRDD) legislation, the webinar focused on garment companies and suppliers and how they can put in place strong due diligence requirements to identify and prevent the use of child labour. The discussion also examined how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected garment supply chains and HRDD activities on the ground. Hosted by Sheri Meyerhoffer, the Canadian Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise, the webinar featured the following four panelists:
- Tulika Bansal is a Senior Adviser on Business and Human Rights with the Danish Institute for Human Rights. For more than a decade, Tulika has engaged with corporate actors, governments, UN agencies and national human rights institutions to promote respect for human rights in the private sector.
- Ines Kaempfer is CEO of The Centre for Child Rights and Business, a social enterprise that works with companies to protect and promote child rights in supply chains. Under Ines’ leadership, the Centre has become a leading global expert on child labour prevention and remediation that now covers 16 countries.
- Claire O’Kane is an International Child Rights Consultant. She is a practitioner and researcher with more than 25 years of international experience of child rights and participation work in diverse contexts. Since 2015, Claire has been a lead consultant supporting the Dialogue Works and Time to Talk participatory research and advocacy initiatives with working children.
- Claudia Sandoval is the Vice President for Corporate Citizenship with Gildan, one of Canada’s largest garment companies. Claudia manages Gildan’s social and environmental program across its global supply chain. Based in the company’s largest manufacturing hub in Honduras, Claudia joined Gildan in 2004 and has more than 24 years of experience, in areas related to human rights, stakeholder engagement and community development.
The following is a summary of the key points discussed during the webinar.
Child labour risks and trends facing the garment sector in 2022
- In 2021, supply chain transparency fell by over 30%. This is particularly evident in Asia. The garment supply chain is complex and fragmented. Garment companies typically look at their Tier 1 factories but there is need to look at more upstream levels of the supply chain (subcontractors, sub-suppliers, raw material producers, etc.) as there tends to be less visibility with regards to Tier 2 and Tier 3 factories.
- We are seeing increasing pressure on the garment sector to address supply chain transparency. The pressure is coming from governments, financial institutions and garment companies themselves, who in turn are putting pressure on their supply chain. Once companies start to look more closely at their supply chain, they will find greater evidence and risk of child labour.
- Human rights due diligence requirements are affecting Small and Medium Sized Enterprises (SMEs). They can use their size to their advantage. While large companies deal with thousands of manufacturers and suppliers, SMEs deal with far fewer, which can make it less complicated and enable them to focus on improving transparency.
- COVID-19 has made access to factories more difficult, which has hampered the ability of companies to conduct social audits and other types of assessments to identify and address human rights and child rights risks and impacts. For example, it is difficult to build trust, carry out age verification and speak with workers off-site through virtual audits.
- COVID-19 has also affected access to education for many children, which has in turn has led many to enter the workforce. Reduced work has led to increased risks for children, including increased violence within families, communities and workplaces.
- COVID-19 has shown how supply chains can fall apart and the impact this can have on workers, and children engaging in work. With shops and factories closing, raw material suppliers have had no income and if business don’t know their supply chain, they won’t be aware of these links and impacts. It’s therefore important to understand the different tiers within the garment supply chain. Myanmar is an example of a country where the risks to garment workers have increased as a result of COVID-19 and the political context. As a result of garment orders being cancelled and companies temporarily stopping production following the 2021 military take-over, garment workers and their children have been left without an income.
Garment company efforts to prevent and address child labour
- Every company will find child labour issues in their supply chain; however, responsible garment companies will have a system in place to follow up on it. Companies can’t solve the issue of child labour by themselves but they can play important roles and act as change makers, sometimes even faster than governments.
- Gildan is a vertically integrated manufacturer that owns and operates large scale vertically integrated facilities in Central America, the Caribbean and Bangladesh. Owning yarn-spinning, textile and sewing facilities allows for greater visibility and control of the supply chain. Gildan has taken the following steps to address child labour:
- Carrying out human rights risk assessments to identify when child labour is happening in different countries
- Putting in place verification audits and an ongoing monitoring system
- Providing clear guidelines to factories and suppliers
- Training managers dealing with factories on how to detect child labour
- Publishing via their website the list of Tier 2 and Tier 3 factories or yarn-spinning and textile facilities to strengthen traceability and transparency.
- Establishing grievance mechanisms for workers and stakeholders in the community.
- Engaging employees and supporting children’s access to education in countries/communities where the company operates.
- The Centre for Child Rights and Business works with garment companies to better understand their supply chain. This can include conducting child rights impact assessments, drilling down to understand the risks in the supply chain, identifying practical measures to address child labour and building awareness of the root causes. The Centre works with garment factories to set up factory-run after-school centres which allow children to stay in school, and to set up remediation processes so that if cases of child labour are found in the supply chain, the company can take steps to remediate it at an individual or collective level.
Holistic approach to tackling child labour
- Child rights are part of the broader human rights framework. When companies look at human rights impacts, they should consider child rights issues and draw upon child rights expertise.
- Child labour should not be addressed simply as a compliance issue. It requires a holistic approach that considers the needs of children and their situation, and how to support them without making the situation worse for them. Interventions should be guided by careful consideration of the child’s best interests.
- Addressing the root causes of child labour takes time. For example, this requires addressing access to quality education and putting in place family-friendly policies, paying workers living wages, and engaging with different stakeholders across the value chain, including with child rights experts, child labour organizations, children and caregivers.
- Increasing movement in many countries towards mandatory HRDD legislation has important implications for the garment sector which has a long and complex supply chain across different countries and regions. Companies will be obliged to apply HRDD, and this includes addressing child rights issues.
Best practice for engaging children that work
- Ensure an understanding of the local social-cultural, political and economic context to prevent exploitation and harmful work of children. If garment work supply is outsourced to home based work, then policies and practices are needed to ensure monitoring of home based work.
- Listening to children and taking their views seriously in decision-making processes is key. Identify and/or establish sustainable platforms to listen to children and establish ongoing collaboration with children, youth workers, families, business and government stakeholders.
- Develop, implement and monitor policies and practices (e.g. Code of Conduct) to protect children from engaging in hazardous and exploitative work, while identifying opportunities for light decent work with good working conditions that are flexible and responsive to education and leisure needs.
- Regularly consult young workers and support their engagement in unions/associations/groups (ensuring they have access to information about the rights and access to complaints mechanisms). This must include efforts to consult children who work from their homes.
- Support children’s access to quality education and quality vocational training. Wherever possible, invest in improvements to local infrastructure (e.g. schools, health centres etc).
For more information
- Getting it Right, a Human Rights Due Diligence Guidance for Danish Fashion and Textile, co-developed by the Danish Institute for Human Rights
- In the spotlight: Follow-up Exploratory Research on the Effects of the COVID-19 Pandemic in the Lives of Working Children and their Families (.pdf), Ornella Barros and Claire O’Kane, June 2021
- “Let our voices be heard!” Proposals of working children and youth around the globe (.pdf), Time to Talk!, Kindernothilfe and Terre des Hommes International Federation.
- Children’s Rights and Business in Myanmar (.pdf). Briefing Paper, Myanmar Centre for Responsible Business, April 2017.
- CORE Study on possible use of child labour in supply chains of Canadian garment companies, Press Release, 16 December 2021
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