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A Toolkit for Responsible Businesses
Boy working in the carpet industry

Risk and Impact Information Gathering

Various forms of human rights-focused impact and risk assessments are becoming increasingly common, and comprehensive tools are available to walk companies through the process.  One of these is the Institute for Human Rights and Business and International Finance Corporation’s Guide to Human Rights Impact Assessment and Management.

An early step in your risk and impact assessment should be to examine the various products you market and sell to identify those that are more likely to be produced by child or forced labor.  A useful resource for this is the Department of Labor’s List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor.  Like this toolkit, this ILAB publication, which is updated regularly, was mandated by the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA) of 2005.   The U.S. Government, international organizations, NGOs and others also produce useful resources for initial information-gathering; see Further Resources for more information.

Following this initial research, the company should engage relevant stakeholders in gathering additional information about risks.  The company should seek input from a range of groups, and put in place processes that allow for communication across language and other barriers.

There may be situations where consultation with certain stakeholder groups is not possible, or where consultation did not yield all of the information you need. In these cases, experts from academic institutions, corporate social responsibility consultancies and NGOs can be engaged to assist with risk and impact assessment.

What information are you looking for?

  • Nature and prevalence
  • Are child labor, forced labor and other labor abuses known or believed to occur in your areas (or potential areas) of sourcing?  What kind of work is being done?  Where are abuses most often found?

  • Root causes
  • If child labor, forced labor and other labor abuses exist, what are the root causes?

  • Industry structure
  • How does this industry operate in the country?  Are workplaces formal or informal?  Are employment relationships formalized?  Are there elements of production that are subcontracted?  If so, is some production outsourced to homes?

  • Labor population
  • What are the characteristics of the labor force in this industry in this geographic area? Is there significant reliance on subcontracted, unskilled temporary and/or migrant workers?  If so, do these workers typically speak the language of the area?  Are workers predominantly of one gender or another?  Is there a particular age group commonly hired?

  • Industrial relations
  • Is a national legal and institutional framework in place to allow for effective industrial relations and collective bargaining?  Are effective labor unions present?  If not, are there other mechanisms in place for workers to have a voice in their workplaces?

  • Social protection
  • Is there a social safety net in the country that protects the most vulnerable—providing, among other things, access to health care, income security for the elderly and persons with disabilities, child benefits, and income security for the unemployed and working poor?  Are there sufficient educational institutions to educate children until they reach legal working age?

  • Legal and regulatory environment
  • What are the key laws and regulations concerning child labor, forced labor and other labor issues in this country/jurisdiction?  Do those laws and regulations apply to migrant workers?  What laws exist concerning corporate complicity in human rights abuse?  To what extent are laws enforced and is there evidence of corruption tied to lack of enforcement?

  • Existing initiatives
  • What efforts are being undertaken, and by whom, to combat labor abuses such as child and forced labor in this industry or area?

In Their Own Words

Key Risk Factors for Labor Rights Violations

“Key risk factors that are taken into consideration include, but are not limited to: (1) labor-intensive industries or sectors that are statistically more likely to infringe upon labor rights, such as in construction, agriculture and textiles; or (2) industries or sectors in countries with a clear history of labor rights issues (e.g., use of child or forced labor, or discrimination against migrant workers and workers who exercise trade union rights); or (3) utilization or reliance to a large degree on large pools of sub-contracted, unskilled, temporary and/or migrant workers; or (4) adverse impacts on significant numbers of workers, such as when retrenchment is anticipated; or (5) supply chain sector considerations in which the supply of raw materials and primary goods constitutes a particularly high risk for the use of both forced labor and harmful child labor, such as in certain types of agriculture.”

Source: U.S. Overseas Private Investment Corporation, Environmental and Social Policy Statement, 2010.

Migrant Workers

Migrants are a category of workers particularly vulnerable to forced labor.  In our global economy, millions of workers leave their homes for jobs elsewhere in their own country or in another part of the world.  Many migrants in search of jobs place their trust in labor recruiters or brokers to make transportation arrangements and place them in jobs, but many workers find—too late—that their wages and employment terms do not match brokers’ promises.  Some migrants incur large debts to brokers and become trapped in debt bondage when they cannot repay these debts.  Cycles of debt bondage can also begin when employers deduct from workers’ wages for housing, food and other costs, leaving them with little or no take-home pay.  Many migrant workers are required to sign contracts in languages they can’t read; others have informal employment relationships with no contract at all.  Some are required to turn over their identity documents to employers, leaving them without the option to escape.   

If your suppliers use labor brokers to recruit and place migrant labor, you may be at risk for forced labor and trafficking in your supply chains.  A recommended resource is Verité’s Fair Hiring Toolkit, which identifies red flags for these types of abuse.

In Their Own Words

Social Dialogue on Hazardous Work for Children

“In cases of doubt about relevant legislation and its interpretation, enterprises may consult national employers' organizations. The International Labor Organization’s (ILO) Worst Forms of Child Labor Convention (C. 182) stipulates that social partners (i.e., workers' and employers' organizations) at the national level are to engage in a dialogue and agree on a list of situations that constitute hazardous work for children. If such a list exists in a country, it may be available through the national employers' organizations. This list should become part of the law on child labor.”

Asking for Help and Using Common Sense

“Where no such list exists, an enterprise can ask the medical association, public health authorities or the employers' organization for assistance. These bodies may be able to suggest someone who can identify the tasks that are potentially dangerous for children up to the age of 18. A good dose of common sense can also go a long way in determining which tasks are not suitable for children. Furthermore, an employer may decide to reduce the risks from hazards for all workers, adolescents and adults, through improved workplace safety and health. This will reduce the likelihood that young workers are at risk from hazardous situations.”

Source:  International Labor Organization and International Organization of Employers, The role of employers’ organizations in combating child labour, Guide 2, 2007.

Some companies take the approach of “outsourcing” the information-gathering function to an expert, such as a corporate social responsibility consulting firm, civil society group or academic institution.  For instance, in 2010, the NGO Human Rights Watch released a report documenting poor working conditions—including child labor and forced labor—on tobacco farms in Kazakhstan that supplied to Philip Morris Kazakhstan (PMK), a wholly owned subsidiary of tobacco company Philip Morris International (PMI).  PMI subsequently commissioned the NGO Verité to conduct an onsite investigation of working conditions on Kazakh tobacco farms and draft a recommendations report.  PMI has used the report to develop new policies and practices.  These include a comprehensive auditing system for all tobacco farms in Kazakhstan, as well as partnerships with local NGOs on children’s camps, vocational schools, community centers, schooling registration programs, and farm owner education and training programs. 

If you already have well-established relationships with suppliers and are seeking to assess their existing risks, audit reports done on these suppliers by other companies or groups afford a very useful source of data.  Obtaining them may require joining a group, but some are publicly available from sources like the Supplier Ethical Data Exchange (SEDEX) and Fair Factories Clearinghouse

When audit reports are not available, there are other ways to gather information on your current suppliers to determine which ones to target for further compliance efforts.  Wherever a union exists, it may be a good source of information on labor abuse risk factors.  Where there is no union, the supplier may have other grievance or complaint mechanisms in place that could be a source of information.  Another option, of course, is to survey all of your suppliers on the key risk factors listed above.

Checklist: Key “Landscape” Questions