IOE views on voluntary codes of conduct and labelling
Although the IOE does not object to truly voluntary codes of conduct and Labelling schemes, it has made clear its opposition to officially sponsored, endorsed or promoted "voluntary" schemes which border on official boycotts. This is based on the belief that such measures risk trade distortion, and violate the spirit and possibly the letter of the rules of an open trading system. The IOE is opposed to the imposition of monitoring by an outside party of individual company compliance with a voluntary code of conduct, except where a firm or organization is voluntarily retained by a company or group of companies for the purpose of helping attain the goals or benchmarks of the code.
While the IOE believes that the intention of voluntary codes of conduct is laudable, it views such initiatives as often limited in their ability to address the root causes of child labour. This is due not only to their very general nature, but also to the difficulties encountered in their implementation and in the monitoring of their provisions. Corporate codes of conduct, whether they be broad codes of ethics or issue-specific codes focusing on child labour, generally do not reach children who are working in the informal sector in the most hazardous conditions.
Box 6.15. Charles Veillon S.A.
Veillon is a major Swiss mail-order fashion apparel and home furnishings catalogue company. In March 1994, a television documentary on child labour alleged that a major home furnishing retailer had unwittingly sold hand-knotted carpets produced by children working under dangerous conditions. At the time of the documentary, this company was one of the largest home furnishing companies in Switzerland, and Switzerland was one of the top ten importers of hand-knotted carpets in the world.
This incident prompted Veillon to accept a proposal by the Swiss-based Association François-Xavier Bagnoud (AFXB) to develop a supplier code of conduct and independent monitoring programme. The proposal called for a transparent standard on forced child labour and an independent monitoring system to verify suppliers' adherence to the new standard.
The policy developed by Veillon set two major goals: the elimination of child labour and the creation of conditions enabling children to acquire a basic education. In the initial stages of the project, Veillon discussed the policy with its buyers to ensure its implementation in a spirit of cooperation and partnership. In the second phase, the independent experts responsible for monitoring met with each of the partners to explain the monitoring techniques to be followed. It was also stipulated that the monitors would provide advice where appropriate on solutions to the individual challenges which each supplier faces in eliminating child labour.
Veillon explained to its partners that the monitoring system would involve ongoing cooperation with an NGO able to guide and advise companies in the area of child labour. Veillon obliged any partner wishing to consolidate its commercial relationship on a durable basis to respect the code of conduct and to agree to the monitoring of compliance with the code. In practical terms, Veillon stipulated that the independent experts responsible for monitoring must be able to:
• freely visit, with no restrictions whatsoever, all the premises considered necessary in the exercise of their mandate;
• hold an in-depth dialogue with the person or persons responsible for the company, so as to obtain the information needed for monitoring working conditions;
• speak freely to the persons of their own choice employed in the workshops, in the absence of any third parties, and with no pressure or subsequent retaliatory action against such persons;
• ensure that workers leave the production premises at the end of the day and that, if work continues at night, no children are employed during the night hours; and
• ascertain whether any adolescents who are employed receive a basic education.
In 1996, Veillon's executive council agreed to make a contribution of 35,000 Swiss Francs to AFXB to support its ongoing child welfare programmes, which included the implementation of the pilot monitoring programme of Veillon's principal suppliers in India. Prior to this, AFXB had received no compensation from Veillon. The executive council also approved AFXB's recommendation to support MALA, a non-profit foundation which had developed an innovative project for working children in the carpet-weaving region of India, providing basic education to the children, along with hot meals and basic health care.
Box 6.16. The World Federation of the Sporting Goods Industry
The World Federation of the Sporting Goods Industry (WPSGI) has made it a priority over the last few years to address child labour concerns. In August 1997, the WFSGI unveiled a model code of conduct which was developed by its Internal Committee on Ethics and Fair Trade. The provisions of this code include the following:
• member companies and the companies to which they subcontract should operate under full compliance with national and local laws, rules, and regulations relevant to their business operations;
• member companies should follow minimum labour standards regardless of the national legal framework, particularly in the areas of forced and child labour, non-discrimination in employment, freedom of association and collective bargaining;
• workers should be paid at least the minimum legal wage or a wage that is consistent with local industry standards, whichever is the greater. Wages should be paid directly to the worker in cash or an equivalent. Information relating to wages should be available to workers in an easily comprehensible form, and wage rates for overtime should be higher than the rates for regular hours of work. Employers should not require a work-week in excess of 60 hours, including overtime, on a regular basis. Workers should have at least 24 consecutive hours rest per week on a regular basis, and should benefit from annual paid leave; and
• member companies should take measures to ensure that no children are employed under 15 years of age (or 14 in countries with insufficiently developed economies and educational facilities), or children who are younger than the age for completing compulsory education if that age is higher than 15. No children should be involved in any employment which jeopardizes their educational, social or cultural development.
The WFSGI also encouraged its members to draw up their own specific codes of ethical conduct, building upon the industry-wide framework.
The IOE takes the view that employers can be more effective in making a positive contribution towards international efforts to eliminate child labour by joining forces with broad national-based coalitions to raise awareness and to provide long-term solutions for working children and their families. The IOE has stated that it will continue to work closely with the ILO's Bureau for Employers' Activities and IPEC to identify best practices of employers in the area of child labour and to provide technical assistance for effective employer action programmes which attack the problem at its roots.
Box 6.17. The Brazilian citrus fruit industry
In 1990, the Brazilian toy manufacturers established the Abrinq Foundation in collaboration with UNICEF to "ensure respect for the rights of the child in compliance with national and international standards". The Foundation aims to promote business involvement in proposals for addressing the commercial exploitation of children through political action in defence of children's rights and through the dissemination of exemplary business actions. As part of the strategy to combat child labour, Abrinq developed a "Child Friendly Corporation Seal" which is awarded to companies who do not employ children under the age of 14.
The Abrinq Foundation approached potential partners at the national level, among which was the Citrus Fruit Exporters (ABECITRUS). Following initial contact, ABECITRUS called for a meeting of its members to discuss with the Abrinq Working Group for Children and Adolescents the development of a campaign for the eradication of child labourers in the citrus fruit industry.
On 28 May 1996, ABECITRUS signed a "Terms of Commitment" document with Abrinq and the State Government to collaborate with them in their campaign to eradicate child labour in rural activities and in their actions to provide schooling for all children and adolescents under the age of 14. In this agreement ABECITRUS and Abrinq agreed to:
• recommend to its associates that they require all suppliers and other components of the production network not to employ children in the production chain;
• initiate action to keep children at school;
• collaborate in the development of action to promote professional training for adolescents with a view to their integration into the formal job market; and
• lend support to the initiatives of the State Government, municipal councils and nongovernmental entities for joint participation in actions foreseen under the present commitment.
The Terms of Commitment indicated that failure to comply with these stipulations would result in the termination of business and service contracts.
ABECITRUS organized the First Mobilization Seminar for the Municipal Councils of Children and Adolescents' Rights - "Children Should be at School" - together with UNICEF, the ILO, the Abrinq Foundation, the Brazilian Municipal Administration Institute (IBAM) and the Municipal Council of the City of Araraquara in June 1996. The Araraquara Pact was signed on this occasion by 18 cities to support a programme for the progressive elimination of child labour in the citrus fruit-producing region of the State of São Paulo. This Pact, and the accompanying Plan for the Eradication of Child Labour in the Citrus Fruit Producing Region of the State of São Paulo, seeks to return children to school and to devise means to maintain them there, including complementary school programmes, family guidance programmes, and income-generation schemes.
For employers' organizations which become involved in the process of developing codes, the IOE suggests that they could usefully take the following steps:
• carry out a survey of what other codes on child labour exist in the country;
• prepare a study of existing codes in order to standardize industry strategies;
• provide assistance in the drafting of model voluntary codes;
• provide assistance with the implementation of verification procedures; and
• organize training courses for concerned parties in the implementation of these codes.