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close this bookAction Against Child Labour (ILO, 2000, 356 p.)
close this folder7. Trade unions against child labour
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentTrade unions strengthen their capacity to address child labour issues
View the documentTrade unions support children, their families and communities
View the documentTrade unions raise awareness on child labour issues
View the documentTrade unions gather and disseminate data on child labour
View the documentTrade unions include child labour concerns in collective bargaining agreements
View the documentTrade unions advocate for codes of conduct
View the documentTrade unions work in partnership with NGOs, employers' organizations and governments
View the documentThe international trade union movement plays a major role


Trade unions are involved in the fight against child labour, working as individual unions, with national trade union centres and international trade secretariats, or with the support of international confederations. Trade unions are also closely involved in inter-agency cooperation. They are among the key players in every country where ILO-IPEC supports activities to eradicate child labour. Each IPEC participating country has a National Steering Committee on child labour in which workers' organizations are represented. A distinct contribution of trade unions is their quick dissemination of ideas within a country, through the extensive networks that they have established. Trade unions are involved at strategic and practical levels of operation by strengthening trade union organizations in combating child labour, carrying out surveys on child labour, raising awareness and taking direct action to prevent child labour and withdraw children from work in workplaces and communities.

Trade unions strengthen their capacity to address child labour issues

Institutional development is aimed at strengthening the capacity of workers' organizations to address child labour problems. This enables trade unions to develop the necessary infrastructure, skills and relevant programmes to combat child labour.

Trade unions support children, their families and communities

In many countries, trade unions ensure that children are not employed in hazardous labour, and, in partnership with other organizations, provide them with welfare services and relevant education. In this way, trade unions are able to improve conditions in their industrial sector and help children move into education or vocational training.

Trade unions raise awareness on child labour issues

Trade unions are raising awareness among their members, via publicity and poster campaigns, workshops, and other educational events. Trade unions also raise awareness within the community, with children and their families, and increasingly cooperate with other partners such as employers' organizations and NGOs in conducting anti-child labour campaigns. In addition, trade unions have raised awareness in export markets by targeting consumers (see also Chapter 8).

Box 7.3. Brazilian trade unions against child labour

Between 1992 and 1995, the Central Unica dos Trabalhadores (CUT) carried out a programme in 25 out of the 27 states in the country to train trade unionists on child labour issues in industries, in the informal sector and in agriculture; to provide assistance to union leaders concerning support for implementation of the laws related to children's rights; and to raise awareness on child labour among the general public.

CUT launched a national campaign with the slogan - "A child's place is in school. Say NO to child labour!". In the footwear industry and in the orange-picking sector, CUT drew attention to the use of child labour in these export-oriented industries. It also became instrumental in enforcing protective legislation for working children.

Another central trade union organization, the General Confederation of Workers (CGT), trained 120 trade union leaders and raised awareness on child labour. CGT organized meetings in five federal states where children work in the building industry, on sugarcane plantations, in textile factories, in markets, and in rural activities. The CGT focused on the hazardous conditions under which children work and the legal aspects of employing children.

The National Confederation of Workers in Agriculture (CONTAG), with over 50,000 affiliated trade union branches, organized a massive awareness-raising programme for trade unionists, workers, and the general public in 88 municipalities in eight federal states. The main objectives of the action programme were to produce and disseminate information concerning the rights of rural working children and to train trade unionists and monitors to improve collective agreement clauses. The project produced 10,000 copies of a booklet on the rights of rural working children, provided five training courses for trade union leaders and monitors, and produced a highly successful radio programme aimed at awareness-raising using a network of 200 local radio stations.

CONTAG activists were trained to support law enforcement of children's rights, to negotiate the prohibition of child labour with employers, and to participate in policy-making in municipal and state councils to protect child labourers. Recently, activities have focused on child labour in charcoal yards, sugar plantations and gold digging.

For several years, CONTAG served as the secretariat of the National Forum for the Prevention and Elimination of Child Labour. The Forum, established in 1994 and coordinated by the Ministry of Labour, includes the participation of governmental agencies concerned with child labour, employers' and workers' organizations and NGOs. It sets priorities for preventing and eliminating child labour and supports the implementation of Integrated Action Programmes by government and civil society in the fields of social assistance, education, health, law enforcement and social mobilization. CONTAG and the Forum are also involved in developing inspection and monitoring of child labour with the national government and NGOs.

Trade unions gather and disseminate data on child labour

Within trade unions and other organizations there has been an increasing recognition that basic data is scarce, and that local circumstances need to be considered in project planning. Therefore, trade unions work alongside other partners in the collection of data and the monitoring of child labour. This is an area that is becoming increasingly important, and it is likely that trade unions will expand their involvement in this field in the future. Situational analyses and needs assessments, evaluations, and information exchanges among partner organizations are essential for sound programme development. Sometimes trade union organizations have conducted surveys in particular sectors. In other instances, the research is undertaken by other agents such as universities (see also Chapter 3).

Box 7.4. Direct action by trade unions

The programme of the Bangladesh Building and Woodworkers' Federation (BBWWF) attends to children working in informal construction industries in two locations. It provides 300 working children with access to government-sponsored schools and a "food for education" programme. It also raises awareness among adult construction workers, trade union leaders and parents of working children about the hazards of child labour and the advantages of education.

The Metal Workers' Union of Bangladesh is involved in a programme to remove child labourers from hazardous conditions in automobile, welding and engineering workshops. It has provided non-formal education and technical training to 60 children, who were also given food and stipends after they were withdrawn from work. After completing this training activity, older children found work, and younger ones continued their training with an NGO.

The Trade Union Congress of the Philippines assisted three NGOs which help abused child workers. When the telephone help line identified a serious problem among child domestic helpers, trade union lawyers assisted in removing the children from their employers' homes. Despite considerable difficulties and obstruction from the employers, who had paid a cash sum for the children, the children were eventually removed to a safe place.

The Rural Workers' Union of Petrolina in Brazil organized a project for child agricultural labourers who were working long hours and handling hazardous agrochemicals. These children were removed from work and given complementary education, as well as help with formal education. They were introduced to horticultural skills, together with their parents and communities. This project will now expand to another area and will provide training in raising birds, handicrafts and marketing.

Box 7.5. Mobilizing trade unions against child labour

In Nepal, the trade unions were somewhat ambivalent about the issue of child labour until 1995, when the national-level trade unions asked IPEC to organize a workshop on child labour. During the workshop trade unions identified how they could help combat child labour in tea plantations, carpet manufacturing and Construction industries, and also among the street sweepers of Kathmandu. Since then unions have been a strong force in the nationwide campaign against child labour. Workers' and employers' organizations and NGOs are currently working together to implement a programme to eliminate child bonded labour.

In India, the All India Trades Union Council (AITUC) mobilized their members against child labour in slate mining in Markapur, Andhra Pradesh:

"The slate mines in Markapur were 30 feet deep and the children working in them were mostly under 12. Women and children in the slate mines were getting the same wages. Labour laws were flouted and safety measures were non-existent. We were horrified by the scenes in Markapur, especially the sight of little ones climbing down deep mines with trembling feet. A visit to Markapur sensitized our workers more than all our workshops."

(Armajeet Kaur, All India Secretary of the AlTUC)

Trade unions include child labour concerns in collective bargaining agreements

The National Federation of Workers in Agriculture (CONTAG), in Brazil, conducted training courses for trade union leaders on how to incorporate and improve clauses on children's rights, including child labour, in their collective bargaining agreements. An analysis of existing agreements was undertaken to see how child labour clauses could be incorporated into bargaining agreements. This has been a successful strategy, and other trade unions have followed their example.

The clauses relating to child labour focus on prohibiting the employment of children under 14 years of age. They also state that the employment of minors over 14 years is subject to national legislation which offers protection and restriction in relation to the employment of children and adolescents in Brazil.

Other clauses, as in the coffee plantation agreement, state that there shall be equal remuneration for men, women and minor workers above 14 years. Other agreements include educational provision for the children of workers. The collective agreement for cane plantation workers in Pernambuco provides that employers engaging more than 50 workers must guarantee free primary schooling for the children of their workers, unless there is a school within 1 kilometre of the workplace.

Box 7.6. Data collection and dissemination by trade unions

Although the gathering of data in these examples does not always directly involve trade unions at the initial stage, trade unions are none the less critical in the dissemination of information in the fight against child labour.

The economic implications of replacing child labour with adult labour were examined in the carpet and glass industries by the Centre for Organizational Research and Training, Baroda, India, in cooperation with the ILO's Employment Department. The results were presented at a workshop for the Government, trade unions, employers' organizations and NGOs. The data showed that the cost of replacing child labour with adult labour was not very great, and that some successful carpet manufacturers were able to run their businesses without child labour. Information from the major markets such as the United States indicated that the small increase in production costs would not impact on sales. The workshop also addressed other issues that encourage the employment of children, such as children's greater docility and acceptance of longer working hours. The findings also broke the myth that the nimble fingers of children are necessary for carpet making, because adult strength is needed to make high-quality carpets. This information was confirmed in an ICFTU (International Confederation of Free Trade Unions) study on child labour in 1994 which reported:

"In our interviews with managers of carpet weaving workshops, we asked in particular whether children's small hands were a necessary prerequisite to rapidly produce quality work. The answer was negative.... As regards quality, measured in terms of knots per square centimeter, it is in fact the adult weavers, whose strength helps them to... produce the best-quality carpets."1

1 Quoted in Institute for Applied Social Science and Norwegian Institute of International Affairs: Child labour and international trade policy (Oslo).

The same finding was made in the gemstone industry in India, where children work under hazardous conditions. Again, children produce goods of medium quality and adults are needed for the best work.

In Moradabad, Uttar Pradesh, trade unions undertook a study on child labour in brassware production:

"Our survey found that in and around Moradabad, there are 22,000 children under 14 who work from the age of 5 or 6. Many of the poor parents earnestly wish to send their children to school but poverty and a general lack of schools prevents them from doing so. Trade unions have come forward to combat child labour. I know our limitations infighting this serious problem. We are trying to help set up non-formal schools for working children."

(Z.M. Naqvi, lawyer and local AITUC leader in Moradabad)

The General Federation of Nepalese Trade Unions undertook a survey in the tea plantations in Nepal, to examine the nature and extent of child labour and provide the information needed to develop an action programme for the elimination of child labour in tea plantations. The results of the survey were published as a booklet entitled LIFE - Inside Dhurmas.

Box 7.7. An agreement in Uganda

The Memorandum of Understanding signed between the National Union of Plantation and Agricultural Workers (NUPAW) and the Uganda Tea Association (UTA) includes a clause on child labour, which reads:

"UTA and NUPAW agree that employment of children under the age of 18 years is not condoned and therefore the management shall not directly employ or allow the employees to bring their children in the Estates to work their task."

Trade unions advocate for codes of conduct

Codes of conduct were originally proposed in relation to the activities of multinational companies in the 1970s. In the past five or six years there has been an increasing interest in unilaterally adopted codes of conduct concerning labour practices by various companies (see Chapter 6, section 6.3.).

With the global sourcing of products, codes are becoming increasingly important. On the one hand, codes of conduct can be a company's response to consumer demand. On the other, their adoption is negotiated by trade unions to support basic trade union rights, including that of collective bargaining.

When negotiating a code of conduct, trade unions emphasize that codes need not be limited to cover child labour only, but should try to cover all aspects of core international labour standards. Codes should also include a provision for monitoring.

Codes of conduct, such as the two described below, are to be distinguished from corporate codes of conduct which are formulated by enterprises without negotiating with trade unions and which often do not cover all areas of core standards. Trade unions aim at achieving negotiated codes of conduct.

Trade unions work in partnership with NGOs, employers' organizations and governments

Over the past years collaboration between agencies has been increasing worldwide as more experience is being gained in carrying out successful measures against child labour and, as a result, trust develops between partners. The bringing together of employers' organizations (see also Chapter 6), NGOs, governments and trade unions creates a powerful tool to identify child labour abuses and eradicate them. There is a growing recognition that the complex social, cultural and economic issues underlying child labour present dilemmas to all those working in the field and that it is essential to share experience, and carefully consider, plan and implement strategies. Trade unions are well placed as a pressure group towards both employers and governments, and at the same time local trade union branches increasingly cooperate in community-based activities with a wide range of NGOs (see also Chapter 9).

Box 7.8. Code of Labor Practice for


and the

A greed between the Sydney Organising Committee for the Olympic Games (SOCOG), the Sydney Paralympic Organising Committee (SPOC), the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) and the Labor Council of New South Wales. Having concurred on the necessity for effective monitoring to ensure that the Code is respected at all levels, the above organisations are continuing discussions on practical measures to achieve these objectives.


In accordance with the goal of the Olympic Movement to contribute to building a peaceful and better world by educating youth through sport practised without discrimination of any kind and in the Olympic spirit, which requires mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play, SOCOG/SPOC recognises its responsibilities to consumers for the quality of products produced under its licensing arrangements, and workers involved in the making of SOCOG/SPOC licensed products and the conditions under which these products are made.

Each licensee awarded the right to use the SOCOG/SPOC name or logo in the manufacture and/or supply of licensed product to SOCOG/SPOC has been audited to ensure that they have appropriate standards of operation and has, as a condition of license agreement, confirmed in writing that employee work conditions meet the relevant industrial regulations.

Licensees further agree to ensure that these conditions and standards are observed by each contractor and subcontractor in the production and distribution of SOCOG/SPOC licensed products. Licensees should, prior to placing orders with suppliers or engaging contractors and subcontractors, assess whether the provisions of this Code can be met.

Each SOCOG/SPOC licensee, and each contractor and subcontractor engaged by the licensee, shall compulsorily implement and respect the following principles in the production and/or distribution of products bearing the SOCOG/SPOC name and/or SOCOG/SPOC authorised marks. Furthermore, each licensee shall warrant that these principles shall be equally imposed upon all those employed or delegated by such licensee.


There shall be no use of forced or bonded labour (ILO Conventions 29 and 105).


Equality of opportunity and treatment regardless of race, colour, sex, religion, political opinion, nationality, social origin or other distinguishing characteristics shall be provided (ILO Conventions 100 and 111).


The right of workers to form and join trade unions and to bargain collectively shall be recognized and respected (ILO Conventions 87 and 98).


Wages and benefits paid shall meet at least legal or industry minimum standards and should be sufficient to meet basic needs and provide some discretionary income.


Hours of work shall comply with applicable laws and industry standards.


A safe and hygienic working environment shall be provided, and best occupational health and safety practice shall be promoted, bearing in mind the knowledge of the industry and of any specific hazards held by licensees, contractors and subcontractors.


Employers should endeavour to provide regular and secure employment. Appropriate training should be available for all employees.


Licensees, their contractors and subcontractors shall undertake to support and cooperate in the implementation and monitoring of this Code by:

· Prior to engagement, the licensee shall provide SOCOG/SPOC with written confirmation that the licensee, as a minimum, adheres to relevant international labor force standards; providing SOCOG/SPOC or its agent with relevant information concerning their operations; permitting inspection at any time of their workplaces and operations by approved SOCOG/SPOC personnel; maintaining records of the name, age, hours worked and wages paid for each worker and making these available to approved inspectors on request; refraining from disciplinary action, dismissal or otherwise discriminating against any worker for providing information concerning observance of this Code.

Any licensee, contractor or subcontractor found to be in breach of one or more terms of this Code of Labor Practice shall be subject to a range of sanctions up to and including withdrawal of the right to produce or organise production of SOCOG licensed goods as per the contractual provisions. Furthermore, licensees who fail to ensure that their contractors or subcontractors abide by the Code of Labor Practice shall be subject to the same range of sanctions.

A joint Committee comprising Representatives of the ACTU; Labor Council of NSW; SOCOG staff and the SOCOG Board shall meet as required to review reported breaches of this code and make recommendations to the SOCOG Board for action as appropriate.

Box 7.9. Code of conduct by the International Federation of Football Associations (FIFA)

"One of the trail-blazing codes of conduct... was that agreed between FIFA and the international trade union movement... it grew out of the exposure of stories... about the widespread employment of children in the stitching of footballs, mainly in Pakistan but also in India."

(Neil Kearney, General Secretary of the International Textile, Garment and Leather Workers' Federation (ITGLWF))

The Code of Labour Practice negotiated with FIFA provides that FIFA authorized marks cannot be given to footballs produced with child labour. The code includes provision for effective monitoring and consideration is being given to the provision of education and training for child labourers displaced by the implementation of the code.

The code includes a preamble stating FIFA's commitment to fair play and ethical conduct. The preamble also recognizes responsibility to customers for the quality of the product, and to workers involved in the production of FIFA licensed products. The key features of the code include:

· employment is freely chosen (no forced or bonded labour);

· no discrimination in employment (equality of opportunity and treatment);

· child labour is not used;

· freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining are respected;

· fair wages are paid;

· hours of work are not excessive (hours of work shall not generally exceed 48);

· working conditions are decent (safe and hygienic);

· the employment relationship is established (regular and secure employment);

· no excessive use of temporary or casual labour, no labour-only subcontracting;

· no abuse of apprenticeship schemes, and education and training for younger workers;

· implementation and monitoring (including licensees, their contractors and sub-contractors);

· monitoring to include:

· relevant information concerning operations;

· inspection at any time;

· maintaining records of workers - age, hours worked;

· wages paid for each worker - for inspection;

· informing workers about the code; and

· no disciplinary action to be taken against any worker who gives information relating to observation of the code;

· severe penalties for breach of the code; and

· interpretations of meaning of the code's provisions to be resolved by the Memorandum of Understanding on the Code of Labour Practice between FIPA and the ICFTU (International Confederation of Free Trade Unions)/ITGLWF (International Textile, Garment and Leather Workers' Federation)/FIET (International Federation of Commercial, Clerical, Professional and Technical Employees).

The international trade union movement plays a major role

The international trade union movement plays a key role in consumer and public awareness, and is committed to continue to advance the issue of child labour. Major initiatives have helped shape the way in which child labour campaigns are carried out, and support and resources have increased for projects in many countries.

The International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) has played a major role in the campaign, as have the International Federation of Commercial, Clerical, Professional and Technical Employees (FIET), the International Federation of Building and Wood Workers (IFBWW), the International Textile, Garment and Leather Workers' Federation (ITGLWF) and the International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers Associations (IUF).

International trade union organizations have been able to compare experiences within countries and industrial sectors. They have up-to-date information from various sectors and have access to national networks to disseminate information. They are also well placed to advise on standards and to monitor patterns of industrial activity. International workers' organizations also play a critical role in developing codes of conduct and model collective bargaining agreements.

Box 7.10. Cooperation between trade unions, NGOs and employers' organizations

In India, the Hind Mazdoor Sabha (HMS), a national confederation, has a long history of working with NGOs to set up non-formal education centres to help combat child labour. In Rajasthan, an NGO has been able to continue its support for a school for former child workers from the gem and marble industries with help from the state branch of the All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC). The South India Chamber of Commerce and Industry in India has worked with trade unions to reduce child labour in the stainless steel industry. This is also helping to develop trade unions and improve the conditions for all workers.

In the Philippines, a strategy for trade unions and NGOs to jointly mobilize within communities in several pilot projects has resulted in the formation of 100 volunteers known as the Trade Union Anti-Child Labour Advocates (TUCLAS), who monitor and report incidences of child worker abuse in their respective workplaces and communities. The Federation of Free Workers (FFW) formed a child labour action network in three farming and fishing communities. The members of the network include local government officials, NGOs, community organizations and local trade unions.

In Kenya, the Federation of Kenya Employers (FKE) and the Central Organization of Trade Unions (COTU) have each set up child labour sections to research and raise awareness with employers and to introduce child labour issues into educational programmes and collective bargaining discussions.

Box 7.11. Gemstone production in India

In the gemstone industry in India, the employers are powerful and trade union representation is very limited. Nevertheless, the ICFTU, the Universal Alliance of Diamond Workers (UADW) and FIET have campaigned to raise awareness of child labour abuses in gemstone workshops.

"Workplaces are normally congested, poorly lit, and poorly ventilated.... These conditions, combined with long and irregular hours, cramped working positions, continuous stress and strain, are all sources of workplace sickness and injuries.

The learning process takes jive to seven years. During the first two years the child does not receive any wage except for occasional remuneration, and works for ten hours a day. After two years, the children are paid Rs. 50 a month, when they actually do work worth Rs. 250-300 a month, at the very least. By the time the children are 14 or 1 5 years old and have acquired the skill of gem polishing, they would be earning Rs. 150-200 a month whereas adults would get Rs. 5 00-600 for the same job." (Chandra Korgaokar, Indian Coordinator, UADW)

Owners avoid the law by managing a range of small, adjacent premises, but the international campaign has raised awareness within India, and in export markets. The campaign stresses that child labour is often a consequence of low wages paid to adult workers in a family, and that exploitation of all workers is a serious problem.