While child labour is widely agreed to be a consequence of poverty, it also perpetuates poverty: a working child often forgoes education and grows into an adult inevitably trapped into unskilled and poorly paid jobs. In fact, the poverty-child labour cycle results in scores of underskilled, unqualified workers. Employers are increasingly aware of the long-term negative impact that this detrimental cycle has on economic development and, as a result, are responding to the challenge of child labour and becoming partners in national efforts to combat it.
International attention is being focused on the issue of children's economic exploitation, with the media, consumers, investors, governments, and trade unions becoming ever more vocal. Individual enterprises have often responded either by dismissing child labourers or by coming up with new arrangements to prevent children's direct or indirect involvement in the manufacturing of their products.
Corporate initiatives to address child labour issues are in part also a reflection of growing regulatory pressures which employers face. For example, the European Commission operates a Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) to regulate trade relationships. In 1995, the European Commission approved a GSP provision stipulating that preferential treatment may be suspended if beneficiary countries are found to be using forced labour, child labour or prison labour in the production of goods for foreign markets. In 1998, the European Commission began offering special GSP incentives to countries able to provide proof that they have adopted and enforced the standards laid down in ILO Conventions concerning fundamental rights at work. There have been parallel efforts in the United States to introduce legislation to ban the imports of products from countries and industries where child labour is used. Discussions have been held in the World Trade Organization (WTO) on a "social clause" in trade agreements which would result in the imposition of trade sanctions in counties that do not observe core labour standards as defined by relevant ILO Conventions. The issue was raised by various trade unions and was supported by several governments from industrialized countries.
In the light of mounting international attention on child labour, employers and their organizations can play an important role in mobilizing civil society to develop sustainable strategies. Employers' organizations are well positioned to provide more specific information on the incidence of child labour in various sectors, including in the informal sector. Through their affiliates, these organizations are able to convey to large numbers of individual enterprises, employees, and their families, the importance of promoting children's education, protecting children against work hazards, and keeping children from premature employment. In addition, national employers' federations have a great potential for:
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