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Sunday 21 January 2018

Irish MEP set to put EU spotlight on global horror of child labour

CHILD LABOUR: Above, Six-year-old Tanjila sifts pieces of coal in Calcutta, India. Right, a child carries unbaked bricks to a kiln at a brick factory just outside Calcutta
CHILD LABOUR: Above, Six-year-old Tanjila sifts pieces of coal in Calcutta, India. Right, a child carries unbaked bricks to a kiln at a brick factory just outside Calcutta

RICHARD FITZPATRICK and BRIAN CARROLL IRISH retailers will be asked to carry 'Child-Labour-Free' labels on clothing and sports goods, under proposals being put to the European Commission this week.

Dublin MEP Proinsias De Rossa, with the backing of Irish charity groups, will this week submit a report to the European Commission on child labour exploitation.

He will then table a question to parliament on the 'Child-Labour-Free' label concept. Irish suppliers and retailers will only be able to use the label provided they meet strict criteria in their processes.

The move comes as Trocaire revealed its Lenten donations were the highest in a decade, with Irish people donating almost ?13m towards the charity's campaign against child labour.

Mr De Rossa MEP said it was up to the Irish public to become more informed about child labour abuse and to question retailers about the source of their goods.

"It's a common misunderstanding abroad that children are working because of poverty. It's the reverse - having children at work is the cause of poverty because it deprives adults of work. In those areas of India where child labour has been eliminated and the children have been put back into school, wage levels for adults have risen.

"Companies tend to argue that they don't have control over who the local producers employ, but it seems to me to be a relatively simple matter to enforce conditions that children won't be used to produce their goods," Mr de Rossa said.

Michael Doorly, Development Education Co-ordinator for Concern, backs the campaign: "Suppliers have to ask themselves, 'How can we be selling a pair of blue jeans for ?4?' If you walk back up the supply chain, there has to be some kind of abuse."

The International Labour Organisation says that globally there are 246 million child labourers, aged between five and 17. About 60 per cent are girls. Children in West Africa are the mainstay of the chocolate industry, while children in Thailand help stitch most of our footballs, and children in India are the source of significant quantities of the cotton supply used in European clothing.

Concern points to a recent report on child exploitation by The India Committee of The Netherlands, which cited numerous multinationals such as Bayer and Unilever. The India Committee found 95 per cent of child labourers caught up in the cottonseed farms of India's Andhra Pradesh region are in debt bondage, stuck working for several years to pay off advance loans given to their parents.

"Children are used like bees," explains Michael Doorly. "With their small fingers, they're able to take the seed from one plant and cross-pollinate with another to get the hybrid. We can't trace the T-shirt that bit of cotton goes into, but we do know who the companies are [who buy the cotton for producing clothes]."

Emer Mullins, Communications Co-ordinator, Trocaire, said donations for this ear's Lenten campaign were up 10 per cent. The campaign specifically targeted child labour in Nicaragua.

"It was a really, really strong campaign."

One of the children who will benefit from the Irish public's donations is Jaime Ruiz, a nine-year-old who starts work at 2am and works under armed guard until sunset, harvesting coffee beans in Matagalpa, Nicaragua.

Because Jaime is pulled out of school each year for the critical harvest period, he has yet to pass first class in primary school.

All of Jaime's family works this plantation. Between the seven of them, they can expect to make $20 a week over the four- or five-month harvest. They must survive on this money for the rest of the year.

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