Children’s and Labour Rights

Children’s and Labour Rights

“As a signatory of the UN Global Pact, we are actively committed to the elimination of child labour. We require our suppliers to act accordingly and contractually prohibit them from employing children”. (Merck)

Main topics: Human Rights, Child Labour, Supply Chain, Raw Materials, Transparency, Labour and Social Standards

Objective

Any activity which is too dangerous for children because of their age, which affects their physical and mental development and which prevents them from going to school is known as child labour. The worst forms include slavery or forced labour. According to estimates by UNICEF, ILO and the World Bank, approximately 170 million children are affected worldwide. 85 million of these suffer from working conditions that are dangerous and exploitative.

German companies can also encounter child labour within their more ramified supply chains; the mining of raw materials in developing countries and emerging markets is one example of this. What companies can do to eliminate child labour in their value creation process is ideally shown by the measures that Merck takes within its mica supply chain.

 

Merck fights against child labour in mica mining

Merck uses mica to produce its effect pigments. The company mainly sources the mineral from the north-east Indian State of Jharkhand, where child labour is widespread due to poverty and political instability. In a 2008 study, Merck ascertained that children were also used to mine mica.

Merck took the following measures to eliminate child labour from the mica supply chain:

1. Compliance with social standards along the supply chain

Control through guiding principles: To enable suppliers to comply with the principles of the Human Rights Charter of the company, the supply chain was developed in such a way that Merck had much more direct influence on its suppliers, enabling the company to enforce corporate values regarding compliance with environmental and social standards at suppliers’ facilities.

Merck has also introduced various control mechanisms that provide transparency in the mica supply chain:

  • The company only acquires mica from mines, since only this formal work environment can guarantee compliance with social standards through partner mines and further processing operations.
  • A tracking system established for mica ensures that the raw material delivered to Merck comes exclusively from these mines and not from uncontrolled sources.
  • Business relations with suppliers are governed on a personal basis by a local office in the region. The staff actively engages in dialogue with the project partners and other stakeholders, such as local authorities.
  • Merck has also developed an audit system that monitors compliance with environmental protection, safety and labour standards, so local staff can check the suppliers and independent third parties; the Indian-German environmental programme (IGEP) also carries out regular audits at the partner companies. Any deficiencies found are documented in the audit reports and must be remedied. Merck employees monitor the implementation of remedial measures.
  • Merck has also reduced its dependence on mica mined in India and has opened up new sources in the United States and Brazil.

2. Improvement of living conditions in the mica mining areas

In addition to the conversion of the supply chain, Merck has also developed education and health programmes in Jharkhand together with its partner IGEP. These programmes are designed to improve the living conditions of local workers.

  • Merck funds schools with kindergartens in three different villages, for example; here health protection is taught along with normal subjects. School materials, meals and drinking water are provided free of charge.
  • Merck also supports a health centre in Jharkhand. Run by IGEP, it provides medical care for the region’s population of roughly 2,000 persons.
  • From 2010 to 2013, Merck and the BBA (Bachpan Bachao Andolan) NGO carried out a project for the creation of 20 child-friendly villages

How you can manage the implementation successfully

First and foremost, companies with widely-ramified, intra-transparent supply chains that source intermediate products and raw materials from developing and emerging markets are affected by the issue of child labour – so it is important to first identify the critical points in your own value creation process and to analyse exactly if and where child labour exists.

A risk map can help the company; it is a visualisation tool that clarifies the risk profile in child labour and helps you to better assess the effects. Where required, companies can then develop an action plan to eliminate child labour in the supply chain, together with specialised partners. The DGCN offers webinars and coaching sessions to support companies in their endeavours.

Measures that can help you

  • Make your supply chain transparent. You can only act to eliminate child labour if you can trace the exact source of your raw materials and/or intermediate products.
  • Cooperate only with suppliers if you are sure that they comply with labour and social standards. If a supplier hasn’t yet created its own action plan, develop it together with that supplier. The long-term goal here is to have your partner acting independently in a socially responsible way.
  • Ensure that fair wages are paid within your supply chain. One of the main reasons for child labour is still the poverty of the parents.
  • If a region has not yet been sensitised to the child labour problem, you can hold employees’ training courses there, bringing home to them the negative consequences of child labour. Cooperate with local authorities and specialist NGOs to ensure the sustainability of these projects.
  • Carry out regular, unannounced checks (also with external partners) to assess compliance with social standards. Violations must be documented and subsequently eliminated.
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