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Matthew Waller looks at current debates on child labour and due diligence.

This year’s World Day Against Child Labour (12 June) is focussed on child labour in global supply chains, which coincides with more general discussions of labour standards in supply chains at the ILO’s annual conference this week.

The scale of the problem

Concerns about child labour continue to recur. In spite of progress (there are roughly 78 million fewer child labourers across the world since 2000), the ILO estimates that there are still 168 million children in work, over half of whom are engaged in hazardous activities, with many of these working in global supply chains. According to the US Department of Labour 319 goods around the world are produced by child labour.

These children, who are commonly involved in the early stages of production, furthest removed from the consumer, are vulnerable to exploitation and exposure to hazardous working conditions across a variety of sectors. In recent months  alone there have been reports of children employed in hazardous conditions in the agricultural sector on palm oil, tobacco and cocoa plantations, in cobalt and gold mines in the electronics supply chain, as well as being overworked to the point of collapse and death in garment factories.

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Laura Curtze looks at how the new Corporate Human Rights benchmark is impacting on transparency and due diligence.

Last week, the UK government published the long-awaited revision of its National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights. As this was an update rather than a complete rewrite, unsurprisingly the government’s expectations on companies remain largely unchanged. These centre on the UNGPs’ structure of asking companies to respect human rights in their own operations and supply chains, including through the assessment and mitigation of risks, engagement with affected stakeholders and provision of effective remedy.

The revised Action Plan contains more by way of an update on what the government has done over the last two and a half years to support companies in meeting those expectations. This includes new guidance for Board members on business and human rights, published in May by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), forthcoming guidance on operationalising the UNGPs and grievance processes (which Ergon has worked on)  and the government’s guidance on reporting requirements under the Modern Slavery Act.

The most notable new area of government support is probably the Corporate Human Rights Benchmark (CHRB), a joint initiative by Aviva Investors, the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre, Calvert Investments, Vigeo-Eiris, the Institute for Human Rights & Business and VBDO. Designed as a tool to provide a comparative and objective ranking of companies' human rights performance, the Benchmark is intended to encourage a ‘race to the top’ by companies seeking to outdo their peers. Government notes that it was business representatives themselves who underlined the need for such a tool, when 39% of respondents to a survey by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) stated that a public ranking of companies’ human rights performance would help them fulfil their human rights responsibility. We have already worked with several companies to strengthen their human rights processes in preparation for the application of the Benchmark.

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We have just extended our analysis of Modern Slavery statements to nearly 240 companies. This builds on our earlier analysis of 100 corporate disclosures made under the UK’s Modern Slavery Act 2015. Our latest report looks at the types of companies reporting, the level of detail they provide, what they say about their risks and what they report they are doing to combat Modern Slavery.

Most statements continue to relate to periods prior to the start of the statutory duty, and in this sense may be viewed as voluntary, but this new, larger sample sets the baseline on disclosures that companies are likely to use when considering their statutory obligations.

The wider sample has some differences in composition from our original analysis. There are more mid-sized companies (sales of under £100 million) rather than very large companies (sales over £500 million). There are also more companies based outside Europe or North America. These make up 9% of the sample with Indian, Japanese and Singaporean companies represented as well as reporters from Mexico, China and South Africa amongst others. The largest portion (69%), however, unsurprisingly continues to be from the UK.

Five sectors account for half of reports. These are: professional service providers, manufacturers, retailers, IT firms, and food suppliers.

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Laura Curtze writes on the challenging situation in Turkey

With now more than 2.5 million Syrian refugees registered in Turkey, measures to increase their access to legal employment and protect them from abuse are rising high up the ever increasing list of competing priorities to deal with the spiralling humanitarian crisis stemming from the regional conflict centred on Syria and Iraq.

Put simply, refugees not only need, but want to work to support their families and build new lives. However, they are often extremely vulnerable as a result of their legal status and the precarious nature of day-to-day existence.  Recent reports have unveiled exploitation of Syrian refugees working in Turkey’s large informal economy. Refugee children in particular have been found to be working in appalling conditions in the Turkish garment sector.

Dealing with this level of exploitation of informal workers is never easy. There has been some progress, though. Amidst pressure from the European Union and foreign brands sourcing from the country, the Turkish Government has recently issued a regulation allowing refugees under temporary protection status to apply for work permits needed to take up formal employment.

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Posted by on in Decent work

The UK is set to ramp up efforts to tackle the worst forms of labour exploitation under new regulatory proposals outlined in a Government response to an earlier consultation on Tackling Exploitation in the Labour Market.

What constitutes ‘exploitation’ is not clearly set out, but is likely to include modern slavery offences (including organised criminal activities such as trafficking), failure to pay the minimum wage and various contraventions of employment agency regulations.

Although legislation has yet to be drafted, the UK Government proposes a range of specific measures aimed at tackling serious cases of labour market exploitation.

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