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A Toolkit for Responsible Businesses
Boys working in agriculture

Improving Victim Situations

Audit teams must be prepared to encounter a broad range of situations with respect to child or forced labor in the workplace, from individualized cases to situations involving systemic and egregious abuse.  Prior to the audit, auditors should prepare themselves with knowledge of local resources, including law enforcement and organizations that provide victim services.  Companies that have gathered this type of data as part of their risk assessments and communication efforts, and captured it in their information systems, are best equipped to prepare auditors by providing this information in advance.

As a guiding principle, auditors’ immediate actions and the ongoing corrective actions taken by management should focus on what is best for the victims in question.  Cases of egregious abuse should be reported to local law enforcement authorities, but this should be done in a manner that ensures the safety and well-being of the victims.  Below is general guidance for actions that can be taken in response to various findings of child labor and forced labor.

Child Labor

Underage Labor.  If the audit identifies a child in the workplace who is under the legal working age, the child should be removed from work immediately.  However, it is critical to keep in mind the possible consequences for the child.  The child and his or her family will lose income, and unless it is replaced, the child may simply find a different job, potentially under worse conditions for the child’s health, safety or well-being.  Companies can take steps to mitigate this situation by:

  • Providing a stipend to the child’s family to make up for the lost income, if the child’s family can be contacted;
  • Offering the child’s job to another member of the family who is of legal age to work;
  • Providing alternative income generation opportunities to the child’s parents or adult relatives;
  • Ensuring that the child attends school or an alternative educational facility, paying associated fees as needed and tracking the child until he or she is of age to work;
  • Providing the child a training or apprenticeship opportunity when he or she is of legal age for such programs, and committing to provide the job back once he or she is of full legal working age;
  • Linking the child to educational, developmental, psycho-social and other services provided by the government or non-governmental organizations (NGOs); and
  • If the child has been living away from his or her family, reuniting the child with the family while ensuring that it can provide a protective environment, and provide the applicable services

In Their Own Words

Income Generation for Parents

“Microcredit and savings and credit cooperatives can provide one or both parents with the start-up capital needed for an income-generating activity. The added income can reduce the family’s need for the wages earned by a child…effective microcredit provision is a complex undertaking that requires an experienced microcredit provider. It is often best to supplement credit with vocational training to increase the quality of the products produced. Microcredit is often less successful with the very poor. It is therefore important that families be properly advised and trained in the use of microcredit. An enterprise can [seek to identify] whether a microcredit organization operates in the area and, if so, encourage the parents of working children to join.”

Source:  International Labor Organization (ILO)/International Organization of Employers (IOE), Guide Two: How Employers Can Eliminate Child Labour, 2007.

Example In Action

EXCEED:  A Comprehensive Approach to Rehabilitating Child Laborers

The U.S. Department of Labor-funded EXCEED project (Eliminate Exploitative Child Labor Through Education and Economic Development), implemented by Save the Children, rescues children from commercial sexual exploitation, domestic work and street work in urban areas of Indonesia.  The project has established Community Support and Reintegration Centers that provide a variety of services to these children, including medical and psychological care; reunification with family or supervised family-based living arrangements; support for enrollment in relevant education programs or vocational training; placement in safe work apprenticeships in local corporations; assistance for the retrieval of lost documents such as identification and passports; and/or legal consultation and protection for victims serving as witnesses in criminal cases.

For more information, see Save the Children. EXCEED:  Eliminate Exploitive Child Labor Through Education and Employment. Project Document, 2008.

Hazardous Labor.  If the audit identifies a child who is of legal age to work in the country, the appropriate immediate response depends on your company’s code of conduct.  If your company has set a minimum age that is higher than the legal standard for the country or region in question, the child should be removed from work immediately if he or she is below that age.  If your code’s minimum age is the same as the legal working age, then the circumstances of the child’s work should be examined more closely.  If he or she is under 18, he or she can work under the conditions specified in your code, typically the same as those laid out in ILO Convention 182. 

However, the child must not be involved in hazardous activities, the working hours must comply with the law and your code, and the work must not jeopardize his or her education until he or she reaches the legal age for exiting compulsory education.

The best approaches in such situations include:

  • Eliminating any hazardous work activities from the child’s job, and closely monitoring the child’s work activities on an ongoing basis;
  • Helping the child identify other safe income-earning opportunities, if there is no feasible way to reduce hazards in his or her current work environment;
  • Ensuring that the child is not working too many hours or at times that endanger his or her health, well-being or education;
  • Finding a way for the child to make up for the lost income through other earning opportunities, a stipend or family interventions, in the event working hours are reduced; and
  • Linking the child to educational, developmental, psycho-social and other services provided by the government or NGOs.

These activities are resource intensive.  The relationships you have worked hard to build are vital at this stage, helping you to find resources and expertise available in the community.  Of course, there are communities with very few resources and educational institutions. Options for action in such cases are discussed in Addressing Root Causes.

Child Labor Decision Tree (PDF; narrative description)

Example In Action

Fairtrade Labelling Organizations International’s Child Protection Policy and Procedures

The Child Protection Policy and Procedures of Fairtrade Labelling Organizations International (FLO) are based on the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) and ILO Conventions 138  (Minimum Age for Work) and 182 (Worst Forms of Child Labor).

The Child Protection Policy and Procedures include a number of steps.  First, audits are conducted by FLO-CERT auditors to ensure that, in practice, FLO’s standards are being followed.  If child labor is discovered, immediate action is taken based on FLO’s compliance criteria, timeline and priorities for fulfilling the requirements.

If a possible case of child labor has been identified, the employee or party that identified the case must immediately report it to their line manager.  The line manager then reports the case directly to FLO’s Chief Executive Officer or his/her designee(s), who is responsible to  act in the best interest of the child in consultation with a child rights expert organization or representatives and, when available, to report the case to a national child protection agency.

It is the responsibility of the national child protection agency to investigate the case, with police if necessary, and decide on the best plan for removing the child while ensuring the child’s long-term safety.  The child’s long-term safety requires not only that the child must be removed from the abusive or exploitive situation but also that the child must not be put at risk of being further abused, exploited or ending up in worse labor situations.

If the case is a suspected child trafficking case, the individual reporting the case may request to either their line manager or FLO’s Chief Executive Officer or designee to pursue the process of validating the case as child trafficking before reporting the case to an authorized child protection agency.

For more information, see Fairtrade Labelling Organizations International.

Forced Labor

If the audit identifies forced labor victims, responses can vary depending on the type and circumstances of the forced labor.

If auditors encounter, or if there are any reports of, egregious situations of forced labor, such as worker confinement or physical or psychological abuse, these situations should be reported to law enforcement authorities.  It is incumbent upon auditors, and other members of your social compliance team who may visit worksites, to be aware ahead of time of the appropriate law enforcement contacts.  

At the same time, it is important to understand local law enforcement contexts.  In environments where law enforcement officials may not be fully trained in handling egregious cases of abuse, auditors and other personnel should also be aware of victim services that are available—including healthcare, counseling, shelter, legal aid and other services—and be prepared to refer victims to such services.

Pursuant to its Global Plan of Action on Trafficking in Persons, the UN has developed a variety of tools on appropriate treatment of and services for trafficking victims.  Most are available in multiple languages.  Recommended resources include:

Situations in which workers may not be in physical confinement or severely abused, but may be in debt bondage or other forms of financial entrapment, also require a careful examination of all circumstances to determine the appropriate response.  If it is found that workers are indebted because the supplier has been charging unreasonable costs for lodging, food or other expenses, the company should require that the supplier nullify the debt or reduce it to an amount that is reasonable for the goods and services provided.  The situation becomes more egregious if the supplier has charged workers interest on these debts, and in such cases you will need to give serious consideration to the supplier’s overall commitment to your social compliance requirements.

If it is found that workers owe debts to a recruiter or labor broker, further investigation may be necessary to determine whether the supplier was aware that the broker had charged these fees, or did not have a policy in place prohibiting brokers from charging fees.  If the supplier was aware, or did not have a policy in place to actively deter such practices, the supplier should be held financially responsible for repaying fees to the workers.  If the supplier was actively engaged in discouraging its brokers from charging workers a fee, and the broker did so but concealed this practice from the supplier, your company may consider taking steps to obtain reimbursement from the broker, or may simply choose to pay the fees to workers.

Audits may also uncover situations in which workers are forced to work overtime, with or without legal overtime pay.  Regardless of pay, if workers are made to work long hours (beyond legal limits in the country) under the threat of penalty, this is a situation of forced labor. Remediation of these situations requires careful consideration, including with respect to how your own practices have affected the situation.  Quick turn-around times and last-minute changes in specifications on the part of buyers frequently lead to situations of mandatory overtime.  Your company should encourage suppliers to be honest if you place an order that they cannot meet without violating the terms of your code of conduct, and you should reward them rather than simply moving your business to another supplier.  Refer to training for your company’s employees for more information on avoiding these situations.