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A Toolkit for Responsible Businesses
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Standards on Child Labor and Forced Labor

With respect to child labor and forced labor, the ILO conventions specify the following standards that should be included in your code and audit tools:

Child Labor

  • The minimum age for work should be 15 years old.
  • Work by 14-year-olds may be permitted in countries that have ratified Convention 138 and submitted a justification to the ILO.
  • It is permissible for children and young persons below the minimum age for work to perform work in schools for general, vocational or technical education.
  • It is also permissible for children aged 14 and above to perform work outside of school that is part of a vocational or occupational training program.
  • Children ages 13 to 15 (12 to 14 in countries with a minimum age of 14) are permitted to perform “light work” that is not harmful to their health or development and does not interfere with school.
  • No child under age 18 shall be involved in the following practices:  all forms of slavery or practices similar to slavery, such as the sale and trafficking of children, debt bondage and serfdom and forced or compulsory labor, including forced or compulsory recruitment of children for use in armed conflict; the use, procuring or offering of a child for prostitution, for the production of pornography or for pornographic performances; the use, procuring or offering of a child for illicit activities, in particular for the production and trafficking of drugs as defined in the relevant international treaties; or work which, by its nature or the circumstances in which it is carried out, is likely to harm the health, safety or morals of children.
  • Children under 18 should not engage in hazardous work.

Hazardous Work for Children

According to ILO Convention 182, hazardous work “shall be determined by national laws or regulations or by the competent authority, after consultation with the organizations of employers and workers concerned, taking into consideration relevant international standards…”  As this suggests, forms of work identified as “hazardous” for children [Article 3(d)] may vary from country to country.  ILO Recommendation No. 190, which accompanies ILO Convention 182, gives additional guidance on identifying “hazardous work.”  ILO Recommendation No. 190 states in Section II, Paragraph 3 that “[i]n determining the types of work referred to under Article 3(d) of the Convention [ILO Convention 182], and in identifying where they exist, consideration should be given, inter alia to:

  1. work which exposes children to physical, psychological or sexual abuse;
  2. work underground, under water, at dangerous heights or in confined spaces;
  3. work with dangerous machinery, equipment and tools, or which involves the manual handling or transport of heavy loads;
  4. work in an unhealthy environment which may, for example, expose children to hazardous substances, agents or processes, or to temperatures, noise levels, or vibrations damaging to their health;
  5. work under particularly difficult conditions such as work for long hours or during the night or work where the child is unreasonably confined to the premises of the employer.”

Forced Labor

In Combating Forced Labor:  A Handbook for Employers and Business, Booklet 3, the ILO provides guidance on forced labor standards that companies should consider including in their codes.

Another resource for forced labor related code provisions is the Ethical Framework for Cross-Border Labor Recruitment, published in 2012 by Verité, Inc. and Manpower, Inc.  This resource is particularly focused on forced labor that occurs through labor recruitment practices, a growing problem in many countries and corporate supply chains.