4 May 2006
Press Conference

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York



The number of child labourers worldwide had declined by 11 per cent in four years, Maria Arteta, Coordinator for Child Labour Programmes in Latin America, International Labour Organization (ILO), said at Headquarters this morning.

Speaking during at a press conference to launch a report entitled The end of child labour: Within reach, she said that, using the same statistical methodology as the report from four years ago, the latest edition contained new estimates indicating that the number of child labourers worldwide had declined to 218 million.  There was an even more hopeful sign; the younger the children and the more harmful the work, the larger the decline.

However, progress was uneven, she said.  The Latin America and Caribbean region had made the most gains, and there had been a decline in the absolute number of child labourer in the Asia-Pacific region.  But Africa had seen a decline from 29 to 26 per cent in the incidence of child labour, while experiencing an absolute increase in the number of children working.

There was increasing evidence that child labour was not only a consequence of poverty, but also a cause, she said, emphasizing that economic growth alone would not end it.  Countries must develop policies that involved investing in education and the reducing of inequity.

While the dramatic decline in Latin America and elsewhere showed the way ahead and provided hope, it was not an invitation to complacency, she said, noting that there were still more than 200 million children working.  A focus on inequity reduction, mass education and cooperation among donors, the international community and Governments, could make a difference.

A correspondent, referring to the alleged use by multinational corporations of child labour on West African cocoa plantations, and to a new voluntary code of conduct to be put in place by 2008, asked whether it was legitimate to wait that long, especially when two of the companies, Cargill and Nestlé, were members of the United Nations Global Compact.

Ms. Arteta said there was evidence of child labour throughout West Africa, but, while ILO was advising the cocoa growers’ association on how to establish a code, inspection was not part of its mandate.  The agency’s role was to set standards, which Member States then ratified.  However, ILO was part of a large group, including the growers’ association, that was trying to help establish a credible inspection system.

She said that, while ILO standards called for the immediate eradication of the worst forms of child labour, there was a need to coordinate with the communities and countries involved.  Throwing the children off the cocoa plantations immediately would leave them and their families worse off than before.  There must be a process, whereby there would be consultation with the community, an alternative for the children, in terms of education, and an alternative means of income generation for families.

Asked whether 2001 to 2008 was a reasonable period to establish the code, she said it took time to work with Governments and to build trust among communities.  While it was difficult to establish a credible inspection system, that was starting to happen in the tobacco- and sugar-growing industries.  She stressed the need to distinguish between acceptable hours and activities for children and exploitative practices.  The ILO position was that anything keeping children from school was excessive, and they must have a certain number of hours for education.

The same correspondent asked whether it would be useful to air the allegations about companies accused of using child labour.

Ms. Arteta pointed out that it was rare for such companies to be accused of employing children in areas of production under their control, and that the question was how they could manage their supply chain.  It was important that they establish control over their supply chains, investigate such accusations, and put the necessary controls in place.  In that way, they could assure their consumers that their supply chains were free of child labour and other forms of exploitation.

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For information media • not an official record