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UN agency aims to end child labor by 2025

November 15, 2017

The International Labor Organization has urged a stepped up effort to eradicate child labor within eight years. Half of the world's 28 largest companies have been accused of using cobalt metal that was mined by children.

Child worker in Sierra Leone
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

One in every 10 children across the world are victims of child labor, and almost half of them are performing dangerous work, Director-General of the International Labor Organization (ILO) Guy Ryder warned on Tuesday. 

Ryder acknowledged that the number of child workers had fallen by 100 million since the late 1990s, as he spoke at the opening of a global conference on the issue in Buenos Aires. But he lamented that the rate of change has slowed markedly recently.

"We can't predict how labor markets will change in the future, but we do know one thing: We want no more child labor and no more modern slavery," Ryder told delegates in the Argentinian capital.

Child labor in Iraq

According to the latest ILO estimates, there are some 152 million child workers and 25 million victims of forced labor worldwide.

The conference, the fourth of its kind, on Tuesday restated its target of ending child labor by 2025.

Africa highlighted

Ryder's call came as Amnesty International detailed how almost half of the world's 28 largest companies still use cobalt metal that is mined by child labor in the Democratic Republic of the Congo for use in batteries.

Read more: Invisible Hands - Slavery in the 21st Century

In its report, Time to Recharge, the human rights group named Microsoft, Renault and China's Huawei among others as beneficiaries of child labor.

Child worker in Bangladesh
In the developing world, children are still often put to work in hazardous conditionsImage: picture alliance/ZUMA Press/M. Hasan

Amnesty said children as young as seven were risking their lives and their health to meet the demand for cobalt, due to the growth of battery use in electric cars, smartphones and renewable energy.

The rights group said none of the 29 companies investigated adequately complied with their due diligence obligations to disclose and suppress human rights violations.

Read more: Migrants: More than 75 percent of Europe-bound youth face exploitation

Closer to home

The German car industry is also guilty, according to its report. While BMW has "improved in some aspects" and scored the best among the automakers, the luxury brand continued to show "significant shortcomings." Volkswagen and Daimler also had "significant deficiencies," Amnesty said.

While some companies have improved their controls on cobalt supply chains, they are still far from fully meeting the requirement, according to Amnesty's Germany chief, Mathias John.

Allegations were also leveled at other leading electronics manufacturers, including Apple, Samsung and Sony, who continue to benefit from child labor in the DRC, Amnesty said.

The report said all cobalt suppliers are supposed to guarantee human rights in accordance with the UN Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights and the OECD's Guidelines for Economic Co-operation and Development.

mm/aw (dpa, Reuters)

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