ILO Global III Conference on Child Labour

Ambassador Alex Ellis spoke about Brazil's advances on reducing child labour

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Alex Ellis

Mr / Madam Chairperson Firstly I would like to thank my colleague Ambassador Ana Paula Zacarias for her comments and to note that the UK aligns itself with the comments of the European Union.

The UK is very grateful for the opportunity to speak at today’s debate. This is the right debate to have, at the right time. As the ILO have said, much progress has been made on child labour with a reduction in child labourers from 215 to 168 million between 2008 and 2012. It is especially heartening to see the sharp drop in girl labourers since 2000. But there are still, as Guy Ryder has said, 168 million good reasons to act.

This is also the right place, given the notable progress which Brazil has made on reducing child labour, which President Rouseff described yesterday. I would like to thank Brazil for hosting this global conference. I would also like to acknowledge the contribution of my Dutch colleagues in progressing international work against child labour through the previous two conferences.

Mr / Madam Chairperson

I would like to focus today on four topics that I believe are essential for the fight against child labour: • Firstly, maintaining the effective international system to combat child labour. • Secondly, ensuring our national businesses act ethically worldwide. • Thirdly, tackling poverty through development assistance. • And lastly, increasing the number of children in primary education.

The recent report from the International Labour Organisation highlights that there has been some progress in eliminating child labour, and that this is in part due to international action. It is clear that there is much still to be done, but the progress at least demonstrates the importance of maintaining the current effective international framework to deal with eliminating child labour. We welcome the report of the International Labour Organisation. The UK has been active within the international system, including co-sponsoring the annual resolution on the Rights of the Child at the United Nations Human Rights Council in March, and calls upon all states to translate their commitments into concrete actions. The UK will continue to lobby governments to sign up to the ILO’s core Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work, including the abolition of forced labour and the worst forms of child labour, and will promote the ratification and implementation of relevant international conventions. We will continue to seek to fund projects which will help State, businesses, civil society and trade union efforts to promote and protect the rights of children.

We welcome the wide nature of the participation at the conference today. In order to eliminate child labour, states, businesses, trade unions and non-government organisations all need to work together as one. The UK Government works closely with the private sector and we take the corporate social responsibility of our companies extremely seriously. In particular, I would like to highlight the UK National Action plan on business and human rights, launched last month, which will implement the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights in the UK. This plan outlines our commitments to help businesses respect the human rights of people affected by corporate activity, recognising that children are especially vulnerable. In developing our strategy, we gave consideration to the State’s duty to protect the rights of children, and to the Children’s Rights and Business Principles, recently launched by UNICEF, and listened closely to the advice of Save the Children.

Trade also has a clear role to play in the elimination of child labour. The UK attempts to include incentives to tackle child labour in our trade agreements, including through sustainable development clauses, and in the conditions attached to the trade preferences we provide to developing countries. As an incentive, additional trade preferences are provided to countries which sign up to and effectively implement good governance and human rights conventions.

Child labour is also clearly and inextricably linked to poverty. Economic development in a country sets the basis for eliminating child labour and Brazil provides a good example of thisIt is no coincidence that Brazil managed to reduce the incidence of child labour during the same time that it achieved significant reductions in poverty, whilst managing economic growth, and improving access to education, through its highly successful social programmes like Brasil sem Fome and Brasil sem Miseria. We will attempt to use UK development assistance to help to combat child labour in developing countries and to addressing the conditions that give rise to situations of child labour. As an example, the Department for International Development’s Governance and Human Rights programme in Bangladesh currently assists the removal of children engaged in harmful work or exploitative conditions by providing alternative employment opportunities, support and employment opportunities to their families, and education after working hours for those children who continue to be employed.

Indeed, we recognise that education is also a central pillar in the fight against child labour. The UK Government continues to believe that one of the most effective ways of reducing child labour is to get more children into school, particularly at primary level. By 2015 the UK has pledged to support 9 million children in primary education, at least half of whom will be girls, and 2 million children in secondary education. The UK has also pledged to help train 190,000 teachers to help improve the quality of learning.

Mr / Madam Chairperson

It is clear that eliminating child labour is a subject that unites us all. However, it is also clear that the global economic recession has the potential to push more children into work and unravel the progress that has been made so far. The global economic conditions provide a challenging environment in which to conduct our discussions. Yet we must strengthen our resolve, not weaken it. The policies we adopt here today must take account of the global economic risks, but more importantly, we must continue to adhere to our international commitments, in spite of the challenges.

Mr / Madam Chairperson, thank you.

Published 9 October 2013