CHEA Sophal, RADU Mares


Child labour is one of the most sensitive issues for consumers in developed countries. The employment of children in supplier factories in Asia producing for Nike was one of the big scandals of the early 1990s. Since then, child labour has become the symbol of exploitative working conditions in global supply chains. Hundreds of millions of children still work in different sectors – from agriculture and to artisanal mining to fashion clothing and surgical instruments – some of which are producing goods sold in developed countries. Children’s rights and working condition for children are regulated in international law. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child is the most ratified human rights treaty ever (Chapter 1). The ILO specifies permissible ages for employment while taking into account the level of development in the country and the type of work. Leading companies have two decades of experience with fighting child labour and commonly found it necessary to engage in multistakeholder partnerships (chapter 5) to deal with root causes of child labour. For such businesses, child labour is a zero-tolerance issue that triggers most serious responses going all the way to terminating the relationship with suppliers. At the same time, such quick termination risks putting children at even greater risk as they seek jobs in even more dangerous industries (e.g. brick making, sex industry). Therefore the UNGPs emphasize that the appropriate corrective action (chapter 11) is to exercise influence over the suppliers and work together with stakeholders to offer education to children, jobs to parents (chapter 17), and/or involve the government and international organizations to find durable solutions. Conducting a proper human rights impact assessment (chapter 9) is indispensable to understand the root causes of child labour (e.g. poverty) and to respond appropriately.

Under Cambodian law, the minimum age of employment is 15 years, while 12-year old children can perform light work. UNICEF has indicated that 19 percent of Cambodia’s nearly four million children aged 5-17 were economically active in 2014.[1]  Internationally, Cambodia ratified the main international treaties on child labour, such as ILO Conventions 138 and 182, as well as the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Child labour normally takes place in the informal economy, in remote areas, and in other sectors hidden from the public view. Child labour is defined as any form of paid and unpaid labour that affects the psychosocial, physical, social and ethical development of a child under the age of 18, particularly their education. Child work on the other hand is a form of educational activity that equips the child with life skills that are productive to child’s future and that are a part of their family-based skills.

Main Aspects

  • Causes and effects of child labour
  • Corrective measures to eliminate child labour
  • International law standards
  • Obligations of states
  • Responsibilities of corporations
  • Reporting standards
  • Audit standards
  • Business reports
  • Privatization of public services
  • Young workers


ILO, Trade Unions and Child Labour[2]

Child labour is employment or work carried out by a child below the minimum legal working age set by a country in accordance with ILO Convention 138 (generally 14 or 15 years with possible exceptions for light work from the ages of 12 or 13); or any work undertaken by a child below the age of 18 that constitutes a worst form of child labour as defined by ILO Convention 182. This includes work or economic activities which are likely to harm the health, safety or morals of children. (…)

Child labour includes economic activities carried out by children, whether paid or unpaid, in the formal or informal economy, for a few hours or full time, casual or regular, legal or illegal. It also includes work performed by child domestic workers.

It excludes chores undertaken in their own home, or other light work for a few hours, which does not interfere with the child’s education, safety, and development. This is referred to as children in employment. (…)

Child labour is about the denial of a child’s right to education. It is about the exploitation of the most vulnerable, disadvantaged and marginalised in society. Child labour is not children performing small tasks around the house, nor is it children participating in work appropriate to their level of development and which allows them to acquire practical skills and learn responsibility. Child labour is work which contravenes national and international standards concerning the work of children. It is work that kills the human resources of a nation and undermines its future development.

Effective elimination of child labour requires global responses that address inequalities, both within and between States. It requires decent work for adults, access to free, compulsory, quality basic education for all, and effective poverty reduction strategies, which provide social protection to the most vulnerable households. Employment strategies which ensure that parents and young persons of legal working age have the possibility of decent work are a key factor in tackling poverty and child labour. Adults who are in decent employment and enjoy a fair income are far less likely to send their children to work.

Why is child labour a trade union issue?

  • Child labour is a violation of fundamental human rights;
  • Child labour means a loss of jobs for adults;
  • Children provide cheap substitute labour;
  • Child labour can weaken the bargaining power of unions;
  • Child labourers will be less healthy in their adult working life;
  • Child labour brings an increase in societal and individual violence and insecurity;
  • Where unions are present, child labour is absent;
  • Child labour perpetuates poverty;
  • A child’s right to education in non-negotiable.

ILO, World Report on Child Labour[3]

What drives children to work?

Poor households, without access to credit, are less likely to be able to postpone children’s involvement in work and invest in their education, and more likely to have to resort to child labour in order to meet basic needs and deal with uncertainty. Exposure to shocks can have a similar impact on household decisions. Households typically respond to what they regard as a temporary reduction in their income by either borrowing or drawing down savings, but when these options are not available, or not available on the scale required, parents may have to resort to child labour. (…)

It is abundantly clear from this evidence that continued progress against child labour will require national policies that help to make households less vulnerable to the effects of poverty and economic shocks. Establishing national social protection floors as a fundamental element of national social security systems is particularly important in this context. A well-designed social protection floor can offer basic income security throughout the life cycle, both providing a buffer against shocks and income fluctuations as and when they occur and ensuring access to essential health care and other social services. Social finance schemes such as microcredit and microinsurance can play an important complementary role in making sure that vulnerable families do not find that the financial services and facilities they need are closed to them. Taken together, national social protection floors and complementary social finance mechanisms can reduce the need for families, in effect, to sacrifice the long-term benefits from education for the immediate benefits from child labour.

(…) specific social protection instruments can be used to mitigate the economic vulnerabilities associated with child labour. Particular attention is given to instruments that theory suggests are relevant from a child labour perspective – cash and in-kind transfer programmes, public employment programmes, social health protection, social protection for people with disabilities, income security in old age and unemployment protection.


ILO, Minimum Age Convention[4]

Article 2

3. The minimum age specified in pursuance of paragraph 1 of this Article shall not be less than the age of completion of compulsory schooling and, in any case, shall not be less than 15 years.

4. Notwithstanding the provisions of paragraph 3 of this Article, a Member whose economy and educational facilities are insufficiently developed may, after consultation with the organizations of employers and workers concerned, where such exist, initially specify a minimum age of 14 years.

Article 3

1. The minimum age for admission to any type of employment or work which by its nature or the circumstances in which it is carried out is likely to jeopardize the health, safety or morals of young persons shall not be less than 18 years.

2. The types of employment or work to which paragraph 1 of this Article applies shall be determined by national laws or regulations or by the competent authority, after consultation with the organizations of employers and workers concerned, where such exist.

3. Notwithstanding the provisions of paragraph 1 of this Article, national laws or regulations or the competent authority may, after consultation with the organizations of employers and workers concerned, where such exist, authorize employment or work as from the age of 16 years on condition that the health, safety and morals of the young persons concerned are fully protected and that the young persons have received adequate specific instruction or vocational training in the relevant branch of activity.

Article 6

This Convention does not apply to work done by children and young persons in schools for general, vocational or technical education or in other training institutions, or to work done by persons at least 14 years of age in undertakings, where such work is carried out in accordance with conditions prescribed by the competent authority, after consultation with the organizations of employers and workers concerned, where such exist, and is an integral part of

(a) A course of education or training for which a school or training institution is primarily responsible;

(b) A programme of training mainly or entirely in an undertaking, which programme has been approved by the competent authority; or

(c) A programme of guidance or orientation designed to facilitate the choice of an occupation or of a line of training.

Article 7

1. National laws or regulations may permit the employment or work of persons 13 to 15 years of age on light work which is–

  • Not likely to be harmful to their health or development; and
  • not such as to prejudice their attendance at school, their participation in vocational orientation or training programmes approved by the competent authority or their capacity to benefit from the instruction received. (…)

4. Notwithstanding the provisions of paragraphs 1 and 2 of this Article, a Member which has availed itself of the provisions of paragraph 4 of Article 2 may, for as long as it continues to do so, substitute the ages 12 and 14 for the ages 13 and 15 in paragraph 1 and the age 14 for the age 15 in paragraph 2 of this Article.

Graphic Summary[5]

ILO, Worst Forms of Child Labor Convention[6]

Article 2

For the purposes of this Convention, the term child shall apply to all persons under the age of 18.

Article 3

For the purposes of this Convention, the term the worst forms of child labour comprises:

  • All forms of slavery or practices similar to slavery, such as the sale and trafficking of children, debt bondage and serfdom and forced or compulsory labour, including forced or compulsory recruitment of children for use in armed conflict;
  • The use, procuring or offering of a child for prostitution, for the production of pornography or for pornographic performances;
  • The use, procuring or offering of a child for illicit activities, in particular for the production and trafficking of drugs as defined in the relevant international treaties;
  • Work which, by its nature or the circumstances in which it is carried out, is likely to harm the health, safety or morals of children.

Article 7

  1. Each Member shall take all necessary measures to ensure the effective implementation and enforcement of the provisions giving effect to this Convention including the provision and application of penal sanctions or, as appropriate, other sanctions.

2. Each Member shall, taking into account the importance of education in eliminating child labour, take effective and time-bound measures to:

  • Prevent the engagement of children in the worst forms of child labour;
  • Provide the necessary and appropriate direct assistance for the removal of children from the worst forms of child labour and for their rehabilitation and social integration;
  • Ensure access to free basic education, and, wherever possible and appropriate, vocational training, for all children removed from the worst forms of child labour;
  • Identify and reach out to children at special risk; and
  • Take account of the special situation of girls.

3. Each Member shall designate the competent authority responsible for the implementation of the provisions giving effect to this Convention.

UN, Convention on the Rights of the Child[7]

Article 28

1. States Parties recognize the right of the child to education, and with a view to achieving this right progressively and on the basis of equal opportunity, they shall, in particular:

  • Make primary education compulsory and available free to all;
  • Encourage the development of different forms of secondary education, including general and vocational education, make them available and accessible to every child, and take appropriate measures such as the introduction of free education and offering financial assistance in case of need;
  • Make higher education accessible to all on the basis of capacity by every appropriate means;
  • Make educational and vocational information and guidance available and accessible to all children;
  • Take measures to encourage regular attendance at schools and the reduction of drop-out rates.

Article 32

1. States Parties recognize the right of the child to be protected from economic exploitation and from performing any work that is likely to be hazardous or to interfere with the child’s education, or to be harmful to the child’s health or physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development.

2. States Parties shall take legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to ensure the implementation of the present article. To this end, and having regard to the relevant provisions of other international instruments, States Parties shall in particular:

  • Provide for a minimum age or minimum ages for admission to employment;
  • Provide for appropriate regulation of the hours and conditions of employment;
  • Provide for appropriate penalties or other sanctions to ensure the effective enforcement of the present article.

Article 35

States Parties shall take all appropriate national, bilateral and multilateral measures to prevent the abduction of, the sale of or traffic in children for any purpose or in any form.

UN Committee on Rights of the Child, General Comment No. 16[8]

4. It is necessary for States to have adequate legal and institutional frameworks to respect, protect and fulfil children’s rights, and to provide remedies in case of violations in the context of business activities and operations. In this regard, States should take into account that:

  1. Childhood is a unique period of physical, mental, emotional and spiritual development and violations of children’s rights, such as exposure to violence, child labour or unsafe products or environmental hazards may have lifelong, irreversible and even transgenerational consequences;  
  2. Children are often politically voiceless and lack access to relevant information. They are reliant on governance systems, over which they have little influence, to have their rights realized. This makes it hard for them to have a say in decisions regarding laws and policies that impact their rights. In the process of decision-making, States may not adequately consider the impact on children of business-related laws and policies, while, conversely, the business sector often exerts a powerful influence on decisions without reference to children’s rights; 
  3. It is generally challenging for children to obtain remedy – whether in the courts or through other mechanisms – when their rights are infringed upon, even more so by business enterprises. Children often lack legal standing, knowledge of remedy mechanisms, financial resources and adequate legal representation. Furthermore, there are particular difficulties for children in obtaining remedy for abuses that occur in the context of businesses’ global operations. 

Provision of services for the enjoyment of children’s rights

33. Business enterprises and non-profit organizations can play a role in the provision and management of services such as clean water, sanitation, education, transport, health, alternative care, energy, security and detention facilities that are critical to the enjoyment of children’s rights. The Committee does not prescribe the form of delivery of such services but it is important to emphasize that States are not exempted from their obligations under the Convention when they outsource or privatize services that impact on the fulfilment of children’s rights. 

34. States must adopt specific measures that take account of the involvement of the private sector in service delivery to ensure the rights enumerated in the Convention are not compromised. They have an obligation to set standards in conformity with the Convention and closely monitor them. Inadequate oversight, inspection and monitoring of these bodies can result in serious violations of children’s rights such as violence, exploitation and neglect. They must ensure that such provision does not threaten children’s access to services on the basis of discriminatory criteria, especially under the principle of protection from discrimination, and that, for all service sectors, children have access to an independent monitoring body, complaints mechanisms and, where relevant, to judicial recourse that can provide them with effective remedies in case of violations. The Committee recommends that there should be a permanent monitoring mechanism or process aimed at ensuring that all non-State service providers have in place and apply policies, programmes and procedures which are in compliance with the Convention.

Children’s rights and global operations of business

41. States have obligations to engage in international cooperation for the realization of children’s rights beyond their territorial boundaries. The preamble and the provisions of the Convention consistently refer to the “importance of international cooperation for improving the living conditions of children in every country, in particular in the developing countries”. General comment No. 5 emphasizes that “implementation of the Convention is a cooperative exercise for the States of the world”. As such, the full realization of children’s rights under the Convention is in part a function of how States interact. Furthermore, the Committee highlights that the Convention has been nearly universally ratified; thus realization of its provisions should be of major and equal concern to both host and home States of business enterprises.

42. Host States have the primary responsibility to respect, protect and fulfil children’s rights in their jurisdiction. They must ensure that all business enterprises, including transnational corporations operating within their borders, are adequately regulated within a legal and institutional framework that ensures that they do not adversely impact on the rights of the child and/or aid and abet violations in foreign jurisdictions. 

43. Home States also have obligations, arising under the Convention and the Optional Protocols thereto, to respect, protect and fulfil children’s rights in the context of businesses’ extraterritorial activities and operations, provided that there is a reasonable link between the State and the conduct concerned. A reasonable link exists when a business enterprise has its centre of activity, is registered or domiciled or has its main place of business or substantial business activities in the State concerned. When adopting measures to meet this obligation, States must not violate the Charter of the United Nations and general international law nor diminish the obligations of the host State under the Convention.

International Finance Corporation, Performance Standard 2[9]

Child Labor

21. The client will not employ children in any manner that is economically exploitative, or is likely to be hazardous or to interfere with the child’s education, or to be harmful to the child’s health or physical, mental, spiritual, moral, or social development. The client will identify the presence of all persons under the age of 18. Where national laws have provisions for the employment of minors, the client will follow those laws applicable to the client. Children under the age of 18 will not be employed in hazardous work. All work of persons under the age of 18 will be subject to an appropriate risk assessment and regular monitoring of health, working conditions, and hours of work.

Guidance Notes[10]

GN96. With regard to child labor and forced labor as defined in Performance Standard 2, the client needs to exercise due diligence in its supply chain to avoid benefit or financial gain from these practices. Clients should make particular effort and engage in additional diligence when such practices are prevalent or known to exist within certain stages of the supply chain, in specific industries or in geographic areas. Financial gain from child labor is a specific risk when the cost of labor is a factor in the competitiveness of the client’s goods or materials. Clients should utilize their influence to the fullest extent to eradicate child labor and forced labor in their supply chain. (…)

GN97. Where the client discovers forced labor and child labor in the supply chain, the client should seek professional advice on the appropriate steps to take to address this issue. In the case of child labor, immediately removing children from their work is likely to worsen their financial condition. Rather, clients should immediately remove children from tasks that are dangerous, harmful, or inappropriate given their age. Children who are over the national school-leaving age should be moved to non-harmful tasks. Children under the national school-leaving age must only work in legal activities outside school hours, and in some cases it may be appropriate to provide compensation to cover their loss of wages. Implementing processes such as purchasing procedures will ensure that specific requirements on child labor, forced labor and work safety issues are included in orders and contracts with suppliers

UNICEF, Children’s Rights and Business Principles[11]

The objective of UNICEF’s children’s rights and business agenda is to promote the corporate responsibility to respect and support children’s rights in the work place, market place and community in conjunction with the government duty to protect and safeguard children’s rights.

Respect: Avoiding any infringement of human rights, including children’s rights, and addressing any adverse human rights impact with which the business is involved. The corporate responsibility to respect applies to the business’s own activities and to its business relationships, linked to its operations, products or services.

Support: In addition to respecting human rights, voluntary actions that seek to advance human rights, including children’s rights, through core business activities, strategic social investment and philanthropy, advocacy and public policy engagement, working in partnership and other collective action.

2. Contribute to the elimination of child labour, including in all business activities and business relationships

The corporate responsibility to respect includes respect for the rights in the International Labour Organization’s Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work. Actions for all business include:

a. Eliminating child labour

Do not employ or use children in any type of child labour. Establish robust age-verification mechanisms as part of recruitment processes and ensure that these mechanisms are also used in the value chain. Be aware of the presence of all children in the workplace. In removing children from the workplace, measures to ensure protection of affected children, and, where appropriate, decent work for adult household members should be pursued. Do not put pressure on suppliers, contractors and subcontractors that are likely to result in abuses of children’s rights.

b. Preventing, identifying and mitigating harm to young workers and protecting them from work that is prohibited for workers under 18 years old or beyond their physical and psychological capacity

Prevent, identify and mitigate harm to young workers and protect them from work that is prohibited for workers under 18 years old or beyond their physical and psychological capacity. Protect children from hazardous work, which is likely to harm their health, safety and morals. Prevent and eliminate workplace hazards or remove children from such workplaces. Children in hazardous work should be removed immediately from the source of the hazard and protected against loss of income as a result of such interventions. Be mindful that children of working age may face different risks in the workplace than adults, and that girls may face different risks than boys. Respect, in particular, children’s right to information, freedom of association, collective bargaining, participation, non-discrimination, privacy and protection from all forms of workplace violence – including physical, mental and other humiliating punishment, bullying and sexual abuse.

The corporate commitment to support includes:

c.  Working with governments, social partners and others to promote education and sustainable solutions to the root causes of child labour

  1. Work with business peers, communities, child rights organizations, trade unions and governments to promote children’s education and sustainable solutions to the root causes of child labour.
  2. Support broader community, national and international efforts to eliminate child labour, including through social mobilization and awareness raising, and programmes to eradicate child labour that are designed and carried out in cooperation with local community members and children.
  3. Work in partnership with other companies, sectoral associations and employers’ organizations to develop an industry-wide approach to address child labour, and build bridges with trade unions, law enforcement authorities, labour inspectorates and others.
  4. Establish or participate in a task force or committee on child labour in representative employers’ organizations at the local, state or national level.
  5. Support the development and implementation of a national action plan against child labour as part of key policy and institutional mechanisms to combat child labour at the national level.
    vi. Participate in programmes to promote youth employment, skills development and job training opportunities for young workers above the minimum age for employment.
  6. Seek to concentrate production in the formal economy and avoid informal working arrangements that may contribute to child labour.

Global Report Initiative, Sustainability Reporting Guidelines[12]

The GRI Sustainability Reporting Guidelines (the Guidelines) offer Reporting Principles, Standard Disclosures and an Implementation Manual for the preparation of sustainability reports by organizations, regardless of their size, sector or location.

Child Labor

a. Operations and suppliers identified as having significant risk for incidents of child labor

Report operations and suppliers considered to have significant risk for incidents of: 

  • Child labor 
  • Young workers exposed to hazardous work

b. Report operations and suppliers considered to have significant risk for incidents of child labor either in terms of: 

  • Type of operation (such as manufacturing plant) and supplier 
  • Countries or geographical areas with operations and suppliers considered at risk

c. Report measures taken by the organization in the reporting period intended to contribute to the effective abolition of child labor.

Social Accountability 8000[13]

SA8000 is a voluntary standard for auditable third-party verification, setting out the requirements to be met by organisations, including the establishment or improvement of workers’ rights, workplace conditions and an effective management system. However, certification is only available per specific worksite. The foundational elements of this Standard are based on the UN Declaration of Human Rights, conventions of the ILO, international human rights norms and national labour laws.

Social Accountability Requirements

1. Child Labour


1.1 The organization shall not engage in or support the use of child labour as defined above.

1.2 The organization shall establish, document, maintain and effectively communicate to personnel and other interested parties, written policies and procedures for remediation of child labourers, and shall provide adequate financial and other support to enable such children to attend and remain in school until no longer a child as defined above.

1.3 The organization may employ young workers, but where such young workers are subject to compulsory education laws, they shall work only outside of school hours. Under no circumstances shall any young worker’s school, work and transportation time exceed a combined total of 10 hours per day, and in no case shall young workers work more than 8 hours a day. Young workers may not work during night hours.

1.4 The organization shall not expose children or young workers to any situations – in or outside of the workplace – that are hazardous or unsafe to their physical and mental health and development.

Ethical Trading Initiative, Base Code[14]

4: Child labour shall not be used

4.1 There shall be no new recruitment of child labour.

4.2 Companies shall develop or participate in and contribute to policies and programmes which provide for the transition of any child found to be performing child labour to enable her or him to attend and remain in quality education until no longer a child; “child” and “child labour” being defined in the appendices.

4.3 Children and young persons under 18 shall not be employed at night or in hazardous conditions.

4.4 These policies and procedures shall conform to the provisions of the relevant ILO standards.

IKEA, The IKEA Way of Preventing Child Labour[15]

The IKEA Group of Companies (IKEA) acknowledges the fact that child labour does exist in various countries. However, IKEA does not accept child labour, and works actively against it. The complexity of the child labour problem requires a consistent, long-term effort to create broad-based and enduring developments in order to reach our goal; to ensure that no products delivered to IKEA are manufactured by child labour.


All actions to avoid child labour shall be implemented by taking the child’s best interests into account. IKEA requires that all suppliers shall recognise the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child, and that the suppliers comply with all relevant national and international laws, regulations and provisions applicable in the country of production. Suppliers are obliged to take the appropriate measures to ensure that no child labour occurs at suppliers’ and their sub-contractors’ places of production.

If child labour is found in any place of production, IKEA will require the supplier to implement a corrective action plan. If corrective action is not implemented within the agreed time-frame, or if repeated violations occur, IKEA will terminate all business with the supplier concerned. The corrective action plan shall take the child’s best interests into consideration, i.e. family and social situation and level of education. Care shall be taken not merely to move child labour from one supplier’s workplace to another, but to enable more viable and sustainable alternatives for the child’s development.

Young Workers

IKEA supports the legal employment of young workers.

Young workers of legal working age have, until the age of 18, the right to be protected from any type of employment or work which, by its nature or the circumstances in which it is carried out, is likely to jeopardise their health, safety or morals.

IKEA therefore requires all its suppliers to ensure that young workers are treated according to the law; this includes measures to avoid hazardous jobs, night shifts and ensure minimum wages. Limits for working hours and overtime should be set with special consideration to the workers’ young age.


All suppliers are obliged to keep IKEA informed at all times about all places of production (including their sub-contractors). Any undisclosed production centres found would constitute a violation of this code of conduct.

Through the General Purchasing Conditions for the supply of products to the IKEA Group of Companies, IKEA has reserved the right to make unannounced visits at any time to all places of production (including their sub-contractors) for goods intended for supply to IKEA. The IKEA Group furthermore reserves the right to assign, at its sole discretion, an independent third party to conduct inspections in order to ensure compliance with “The IKEA Way on Preventing Child Labour”.

H&M, Sustainability Report[16]

Addressing Child Labour

Child labour is a salient human rights issue. Today, it is rare to find any workers below the statutory minimum age in our suppliers’ factories. We have taken a clear stance against all use of child labour for many years. It is a minimum requirement for all factories producing for the H&M group, and we continuously monitor compliance.

In 2016, we updated our risk assessment for new and existing raw materials to further integrate the human rights risk perspective, including the risk of child labour. The risk of child labour in our value chain is known to be connected to raw materials.

We also continued to make sure our Child Labor Policy was implemented, and engaged in initiatives that strengthened children’s rights. See Modern Slavery Statement for more details. If we discover any person below the minimum age working in any of our business partner’s factories, we have a clear policy in place that guides us to act in the best interests of the child. This can include ensuring the individual enrols in school, compensation to the family for the lost income and partnering with civil society organisations. For more information on our policies here.

We conducted an assessment on mica – an ingredient most commonly found in cosmetic products – to support our ongoing strategy development on the risks of child labour associated with its production in India.

We also entered a collaboration with the Centre for Child Rights and Corporate Social Responsibility (CCR CSR) in a project to prevent child labour and protect young workers in our supplier factories in Myanmar. The programme provides training in child labour awareness, prevention and remediation in the workplace, as well as effective child protection at work and in the community. The training is for both managers and workers, and has so far reached 309 management staff and 660 workers. The CCR CSR also produced a baseline report and a final report from this project.

H&M, Policy on Child Labour[17]

What Is Expected Of Business Partners

Business partners are required to have systems in place to ensure that child labor is not employed directly by the business partner or by any partner/sub-contractor.

If child labor is confirmed in a business partner’s operations (directly or via partner/sub-contractor), we request the business partner to ensure that measures are taken in the best interest of the child. In cooperation with the child’s family, employer and other relevant parties, the business partner is required to seek a satisfactory solution, taking into consideration the child’s age, social situation, education etc. The solution should always aim to improve, not worsen, the child’s situation and shall be maintained for the child until the child reaches legal age of working.

Any cost related to the solution need to be covered by the business partner and the business partner is also required to compensate the child’s family for lost income – as a minimum the prevailing minimum wage.

H&M reserves the right to seize cooperation with business partners that violate this policy.

Amnesty International, This Is What We Die For[18]

UNICEF estimated in 2014 that approximately 40,000 boys and girls work in all the mines across southern DRC, many of them involved in cobalt mining. The children interviewed by researchers described the physically demanding nature of the work they did. They said that they worked for up to 12 hours a day in the mines, carrying heavy loads, to earn between one and two dollars a day. Even those children who went to school worked 10 – 12 hours during the weekend and school holidays, and in the time before and after school. The children who were not attending school worked in the mines all year round. For example, Paul, aged 14, started mining at the age of 12 and worked in tunnels underground. He told researchers he would often “spend 24 hours down in the tunnels. I arrived in the morning and would leave the following morning.”

Other children said that they worked in the open, in high temperatures, or in the rain. As with adult miners, they were exposed to high levels of cobalt on a consistent basis, but did not even have gloves or face masks to wear. The children interviewed for this report complained of being frequently ill. “There is lots of dust, it is very easy to catch colds, and we hurt all over,” Dany, a 15-year-old boy, told researchers.

Several children said that they had been beaten, or seen other children beaten, by security guards employed by mining companies when they trespassed on those companies’ mining concessions. Security guards also demanded money from them.

Most children indicated that they earned between 1,000-2,000 Congolese Francs per day (US$1-2). Children who collected, sorted, washed, crushed and transported minerals were paid per sack of minerals by the traders. The children had no way of independently verifying the weight of the sacks or the grade of the ore, and so had to accept what the traders paid them, making them susceptible to exploitation.

It is widely recognized internationally that the involvement of children in mining constitutes one of the worst forms of child labour, which governments are required to prohibit and eliminate. The nature of the work that researchers found that the children do in artisanal cobalt mining in the DRC is hazardous, and likely to harm children’s health and safety.

The children said that they had to work, since their parents had no formal employment and could not afford school fees. The DRC Child Protection Code (2009), provides for free and compulsory primary education for all children. However, because of a lack of adequate funding from the state, most schools still charge parents a monthly amount to cover costs, such as teacher salaries, uniforms and learning materials. In Kolwezi, NGO staff told researchers, this amount varies between 10 – 30,000 Congolese Francs (US$10-30) per month, which is more than many can afford. Some children do not attend school and work full time, others attend school but work out of school hours, on weekends and holidays.

US, Class Action Suit Regarding Child Labour in Cobalt Mining[19]

1. Defendants [Apple, Alphabet, Dell, Microsoft and Tesla] are knowingly benefiting from and aiding and abetting the cruel and brutal use of young children in Democratic Republic of Congo (“DRC”) to mine cobalt, a key component of every rechargeable lithium-ion battery used in the electronic devices these companies manufacture. The young children mining Defendants’ cobalt are not merely being forced to work full-time, extremely dangerous mining jobs at the expense their educations and futures; they are being regularly maimed and killed by tunnel collapses and other known hazards common to cobalt mining in the DRC.

89. (…) Defendants Apple, Alphabet, Dell, Microsoft and Tesla have been and continue to be unjustly enriched as a result of the wrongful conduct alleged herein. Defendants have unjustly benefited by receiving DRC cobalt at prices reflecting that a significant portion of Defendants’ cobalt supply chain is mined by children performing extremely hazardous work for 2 to 3 U.S. dollars per day and, remarkably, in many cases even less than that. Defendants are knowingly benefiting and being unjustly enriched from the unlawful use of forced child labor in their cobalt supply chains at the expense of Plaintiffs and the Class Members who are being paid below starvation wages to risk their lives and health to mine cobalt for Defendants. Further, as previously alleged, the cobalt supply chain “ventures” Defendants participate in use deception and misrepresentations to hide the true facts of Defendants abuse of Plaintiffs and the Class Members to continue to obtain unfairly low-priced cobalt. Between the parties, it would be unjust and inequitable for Defendants Apple, Alphabet, Dell, Microsoft and Tesla, already incredibly rich companies run by extremely rich executives, to get a windfall and retain the benefits from their abuse of Plaintiffs and the Class Members.

90. Accordingly, Plaintiffs seek full restitution of enrichment, benefits, and ill-gotten gains Defendants Apple, Alphabet, Dell, Microsoft and Tesla acquired as a result of the wrongful conduct alleged herein.

Khan et al, NGOs and CSR Interventions into Third World Child Labour[20]

A field study focused on a Western-led Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) intervention into Pakistan’s soccer ball industry is used to explore the dynamics surrounding local Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) staff charged with implementation. (…)

Our field study reveals that local NGO staff charged with implementing a Western-derived CSR intervention, as they often are, operate within a set of complex post-colonial conditions that entail them having to work through multiple subject positions and sometimes conflicting rationalities. For example, they are working for and representing international NGOs and being asked to implement a particular solution to a CSR problem – in this field study the elimination of child labor from the soccer ball industry. However, they are also part of the local community with a sense-making frame that includes an awareness of the post-colonial conditions noted earlier. They are cognizant of, and perhaps share, the suspicions of Western interventions and the promulgated modes of modernization within the local community. The intervention is not addressing the needs of local people for a living income and poverty alleviation, and local values and traditions that could be part of the solution are being ignored and diminished. (…)

As has been noted, current CSR approaches regarding the TW, especially codes of conduct, are made in the West and exported to the rest. There is an inherent ethnocentrism to much CSR as well as a thinly disguised self-interest masquerading as universal benevolence (Banerjee, 2008). It purports to offer a universalistic ethic, whilst in fact resting upon localized Western specificities of history, culture, politics, and ethics. In our field study, the whole analysis, development of plans, and solutions are Western-led and input from the TW is restricted to local business and other elites, who are often themselves participants in Western neo-colonial projects such as modernization through neo-liberal models of development. What is missing is the voice of local people, particularly those at the grassroots levels who are the supposed target of CSR interventions. (…)

Our field work revealed an example of what a locally and indigenously informed CSR agenda might look like when female stitchers articulated a very clear set of goals and priorities: good pay, steady work, and proper sanitation. These were different priorities from the Western concerns with child labor. In fact, the issue of child labor was far less problematical for local women and their communities than it was for Western advocates, especially given that the work was part time, took place at homes in the context of families, and did not disrupt schooling. We witness a deflection from these goals and those of labor representation onto the single, measurable goal of child labor elimination. It might well be that the local women would prefer not to see their children working in this manner, but that is not the most pressing objective they envisage. They might also envisage other goals, such as help from employers with expenses relating to marrying off their children, as legitimate. A corporation being responsible for such things may appear strange in the context of Western CSR approaches, but might be a legitimate CSR and development goal under a post-colonial CSR approach. (…)

Our case study also provides another instance of the negativities attendant upon outside interventions. For the sake of placating Western consumer and advocacy sentiments by zeroing in on a one-point reform agenda (to eliminate child labor), an entire home economy was ravaged, throwing women off work, and plunging subsistence household incomes even further below the poverty line. The complexities of child labor being interwoven with other parts of the local economy (e.g. women’s employment) and cultural arrangements (e.g. women preferring home based to factory based employment), not to mention the post-colonial hostilities of the local populations to outside Western interventions, were all lost to the self-appointed social engineers who concocted the CSR intervention. And this is our point. It is hard to fathom how outsiders, no matter how well meaning they may be, are able to encompass such complexities, available as common knowledge to local insiders, that if not taken into account are likely to lead to poorly conceived and executed outsider interventions ushering in major changes that have net negative and sometimes catastrophic consequences in the indigenous community. The role of outside advocates and external interventionists needs to be limited and at least mediated by, if not led by, input from local agents and particularly from the subaltern classes. (…)

Another contribution of our study is the inclusion of the voices of local actors: NGO staff, business people, and workers. Often such actors, particularly the latter, are in positions of subalterneity and remain voiceless both in local political dynamics and international research. It is the sedimentation of the traumas of post-colonial conditions in the consciousness of such people that colors their phenomenal world and informs their sense-making. Any analysis failing to attend to such experiences and understandings is deficient, just as any practice that does not take them into account runs the risk of being unaligned with genuine local concerns. Future research needs to also incorporate local voices and the sense-making frameworks through which engagements with the West, and CSR interventions in particular, are made meaningful and responded to. (…)

Thomas, Addressing Child Labor in Agriculture Supply Chains[21]

This paper briefly reviews the historic gains that have been made over the past twenty-five years in the global fight against child labor. The progress made in such a relatively short period of time should serve to strengthen the resolve to carry the fight forward. The reality is however that there is a long and hard road ahead to meet the goal of eliminating child labor, even in its worst forms. Nowhere is that more true than in the agricultural sector. (…)

Progress achieved within a relatively short timeframe

Eliminating child labor requires addressing its root causes. The global strategy to eliminate child labor set out in The Hague Roadmap provides excellent guidance on action required to be taken to address the root causes and to make sustainable progress. This global strategy needs to be applied to rural areas and to agriculture workplaces, plantations and farms. Addressing child labor in agriculture supply chains is an important component of this global strategy. This paper highlights a few ways to address child labor more effectively in agriculture supply chains. It does not attempt to be exhaustive or comprehensive. It stresses the importance of responsible business operations and supply chain management, providing decent work for adults, supporting rural community development, and for the efforts undertaken by business to link to wider public policies adopted to eliminate child labor. (…)

Recognition is given to the fact that the needs of countries and regions differ and that there is no single policy that by itself will end the worst forms of child labor. Thus the global strategy set out in The Hague Roadmap emphasizes the importance of taking a strategic integrated approach to eradicate child labor, and the importance of moving forward simultaneously on all four of the following priority areas: 1) Ensuring enactment and enforcement of adequate laws and regulations; 2) Promoting decent employment of adults and young persons – including the protection of fundamental principles and rights at work, fair wages, and occupational safety and health; 3) Improving and extending social protection to guard against economic and social risks and lack of income; and 4) Providing accessible, affordable, quality education or skill training for all children. The Brasilia Declaration reinforces this comprehensive strategy and stresses the importance of addressing the root causes of child labor and of targeting those children in the most vulnerable and hazardous situations. (…)

The persistence of child labor in agriculture is not surprising given the deep rooted causes. Poverty, few livelihood alternatives, insufficient education systems, seasonal work, migratory lifestyles, cultural practices, low levels of awareness, low unionization, inadequate or unenforced labor laws, lack of decent work for adults, unfair labor contracts, low productivity, and labor intensive technology are among the main causes of child labor in agriculture. (…)

The main stakeholders involved in agriculture supply chains include: large, often multinational food or commodity product suppliers, smallholder famers and their out-grower associations, cooperatives, food processing companies, retailers, agriculture input industries (i.e. pesticides, seed, and feed), industry and trade associations, restaurants and catering companies, consumer associations, and private social auditing firms. The reality is that supply chains offer important avenues to reach all types of agriculture undertakings to address the causes as well as the existence of child labor. Thus business has and should use this comparative advantage. (…)

The importance of coherence among public and private actors to address root causes of child labor

(…) attention often turns to child labor in agriculture in global supply chains with which consumers feel a direct link. Little attention is paid to child labour in neglected sub-sectors of agriculture such as vegetable cultivation, cattle raising, or wood production. The media are interested in child labor in coffee, in sugar, in cocoa, in cotton and garments, in mining such as blood diamonds. These are indeed important areas that deserve more concerted effort to tackle the child labor issues. Companies engaged in these areas are at high risk of exposure and have tended to join multi-stakeholder initiatives and other associations and to take a myriad of uncoordinated actions to address child labor in their supply chains. However, little attention is paid to the root causes of child labor and the attendant development issues: rural under-development and poverty, and lack of access to land, services and rights. Well intended corporate contributions are often ad hoc, disconnected from public services, or duplicative. This is why more strategic action and coordination is required.

Within the strategic focus on the elimination of child labor in agriculture, coherence of policy and action among public and private actors and other stakeholders is needed. This means recognizing that action taken to address child labor in global supply chains alone, even if done more effectively, is insufficient to fully tackle the problem. Children move from harvesting to fishing to domestic work and many are not only working in global supply chains but are producing for local and national markets. The corporate driven supply chain responses need to dovetail with wider locally based and owned policies addressing child labor and the responses to the causes of child labor. Business cannot be considered to be complying with its obligation to eliminate child labor if it is only displacing children out of one situation of child labor into another.

Gupta, An Empirical Examination of a Multinational Ethical Dilemma[22]

Today’s global marketplace presents a variety of ethical dilemmas for multinational corporations. This ethical decision-making process becomes particularly challenging when the ethical standards in the company’s home country are higher than those in host markets. One global ethical issue that has received significant attention in international research is that of child labor, particularly the minimum age of employment. This article examines the issue of corporate ethical policies on the minimum age for child labor in emerging markets by using the universalist versus relativist ethical framework. Study results show that while both home and host consumers overwhelmingly prefer the universalist approach, the relativist option is acceptable only when the context of the host country is explained to both groups. (…)

Results from this study present MNCs with compelling evidence against the temptation to alter universal ethical standards regarding minimum age for child labor to accommodate host country norms and practices. Findings show that despite the lower ethical standards of the host country, both home and host country consumers expect high ethical standards for child labor practices from MNCs entering host markets. Consumers in both populations show their disapproval of the relativist ethical strategy through both their negative evaluation of the company and decreased purchase intention of products made by the firm. (…)

This study found that both home and host consumers prefer the universalist ethical approach to the minimum age of child labor when MNCs enter host markets with lower ethical standards. However, if MNCs opt to pursue the relativist ethical approach to the minimum age of child labor and adapt to the local market, explaining the adaptation to the consumer using the context of the host country’s business or social environment improves consumer attitude for home and host consumers, and purchase intent for home consumers. (…)

Background (Cambodia)

UNICEF, Statistical Profile of Child Protection in Cambodia[23]

The term ‘child labour’ is often defined broadly as work that deprives children of their childhood, their potential and their dignity, and that is harmful to their development. Not all work done by children is classified as child labour; children involved in child labour represent a subset of those who are working. Whether or not particular forms of work are considered ‘child labour’ depends on the child’s age, the type and hours of work performed, the conditions under which it is performed and national legislation. Therefore, the definition of child labour varies from country to country as well as among sectors within countries.

In Cambodia, the Labour Law (1997) allows children as young as 12 years old to work in light and non-hazardous employment that does not interfere with their education. The minimum legal age for general employment in the country is 15 years and 18 years for hazardous work (as defined in the law). Child labour takes many different forms. However, a priority is to eliminate without delay the worst forms of child labour as defined by Article 3 of ILO Convention No. 18: “labour that jeopardizes the physical, mental or moral well-being of a child, either because of its nature or because of the conditions in which it is carried out (also known as ‘hazardous work’)”.

Children of Cambodia[24]

Main problems faced by children in Cambodia:


Around 30% of the population lives below the poverty line in Cambodia…This poverty touches children most of all, who as a result suffer from malnutrition and marginal life condition.

Right to health

In Cambodia the situation is serious and the health of children is poor.  AIDS is rampant and unfortunately affects many children…

Right to water

Access to potable water is a very serious problem in Cambodia that affects rural zones in particular… only around 16% of the population has access to potable water, and … around 80% of Cambodians live in the country. Because of this, numerous children die from diarrhoeal illness and hygiene remains equally problematic: households and even schools are not always equipped with toilets.

Right to education

Currently, more than 10% of Cambodian children do not go to school. Access to education for young girls is even more restricted since only 20% of them go to a secondary school…

Instruments (Cambodia)

Labour Law[25]

Article 173:

A Prakas of the Ministry in Charge of Labour shall determine the different types of work that are hazardous or too strenuous and that shall be prohibited to children aged less than eighteen years.

The Prakas shall also establish the special conditions under which minors can be employed in insalubrious or hazardous establishments where the staff is exposed to arrangements harmful to their health.

Article 177:

  • The allowable minimum age for wage employment is set at fifteen years.
  • The minimum allowable age for any kind of employment or work, which, by its nature, could be hazardous to the health, the safety, or the morality of an adolescent, is eighteen years. The types of employment or work covered by this paragraph are determined by a Prakas (ministerial order) of the Ministry in Charge of Labour, in consultation with the Labour Advisory Committee.
  • Regardless of the provisions of paragraph 2 above, the Ministry in Charge of Labour can, after having consulted with the Labour Advisory Committee, authorize the generation of occupation or employment for adolescents aged fifteen years and over on the condition that their health, safety, or morality is fully guaranteed and that they can receive, in the corresponding area of activity, specific and adequate instruction or vocational training.

4.  Regardless of the provisions of paragraph 1 above, children from twelve to fifteen years of age can be hired to do light work provided that:

a) The work is not hazardous to their health or mental and physical development.

b) The work will not affect their regular school attendance, their participation in guidance programs or vocational training approved by a competent authority.

5.  Prakas issued by the Ministry in Charge of Labour in consultation with the Labour Advisory Committee will determine the types of employment and establish the working conditions, particularly the maximum number of hours of work authorized as per paragraph 4 above.

6.  After having consulted with the Labour Advisory Committee, the Ministry in Charge of Labour can wholly or partially exclude certain categories of occupation or employment from having to implement this article if the implementation of this article for these types of occupation or employment create considerable difficulties.

Law on Education[26]

Article 31

Every citizen has the right to access qualitative education of at least 9 years in public schools free of charge. The Ministry in charge of education shall gradually prepare the policy and strategic plans to ensure that all citizens obtain qualitative education as stipulated by this law.

Criminal Code[27]

Article 339: Subjecting minor to working conditions harmful to his or her health

Subjecting a minor to working conditions harmful to his or her health or physical development shall be punishable by imprisonment from two to five years and a fine from four million to ten million Riels.

Article 340: Aggravating circumstances as a consequence of the death of the minor

The offences defined in Article 339 (Subjecting minor to working conditions harmful to his or her health) of this Code shall be punishable by imprisonment from seven to fifteen years if it results in the death of the victim.

Prakas on Category of Occupation and Light Work[28]

Article 2:

Light work is the work that does not affect the health as well as mental and physical development of the employed children and does not affect their regular school attendance, involvement in orientation programs or vocational trainings required by the competent authorities.

Light work categories are:

  1. Light work in the agriculture sector such as raising animals, caring for small livestock animals – but not catching and slaughtering those animals – growing plants, harvesting, picking up fruit – but not climbing to pick up – as well as cleaning. 
  2. Clearing grass and preparing soil
  3. Recording goods
  4. Working at some shopping malls such as selling booth, vegetables and fruit selling stall, or news stand and stall of other similar goods.
  5. Receiving, packing, selecting and classifying goods as well as assembling light things, including opening or taking goods out of the package.
  6. Sweeping, mopping, and preparing dining table such as preparing plates, spoons, forks, knifes etc.
  7. Manual installation work, which is an easy work, but not welding metal or iron, or working with any product causing hazardous risk.
  8. Painting wall or things with proper protective equipment but not spraying paint.
  9. Easy work such as sewing, putting goods into plastic bag, folding carton, or polishing and cleaning glass or ceramics, trimming garment, or assembling all parts of garment or cleaning something dirty on the garment or attaching brand, or attaching price tag.
  10. Preparing or selecting each type of garments for washing 
  11. Checking products    
  12. Working as messenger within the organization
  13. Receiving letters or sending out packages, as well as distributing information and documents
  14. Filing books in the library
  15. Lifting, carrying and holding light things

Prakas on Working and Living Conditions in Brick-Making[29]

Item 6

Children aged less than 15 years of age shall not be employed to work at all in brick-making site even though helping their parent work.

Children aged more 15 years of age but he is less 18 years of age shall prohibit to employ some hazardous work such as work of break wood, soil-work, soil impact work, work in brick-making machinery.

Prakas on the Prohibition of Hazardous Child Labour[30]

Para 2:

The hazardous works shall assume jeopardy to a child’s health, security, or morals as follows:

  1. Smelting, blowing, casting, rolling, stamping or welding metal
  2. Deep-sea and off-shore fishing
  3. Diving for marine products such as sponge, pearls, sand and shells
  4. Logging
  5. Charcoal burning
  6. Operating steam boilers, air receivers, gas cylinders, acetylene generators, conveyors and carrying out quarrying operations such drilling, igniting (with fuse or electricity), blasting, crushing and splitting stones
  7. Operating power-driven woodworking machines
  8. Operating cranes, hoists, scaffold winches or other lifting machines
  9. Lifting, carrying, handling and moving of heavy loads as prescribed by MOSALVY’s Ministerial order No.124 dated June 15, 2001
  10. Firefighting
  11. Operating or assisting to operate (including starting, stopping, adjusting, feeding, or any other activity involving physical contact associated with the operation) transportation equipment such as bulldozers, pile driving equipment, trailers, road rollers, tractor lifting appliances, excavators, loading machines, trucks, buses, and taxis
  12. Maintenance of heavy machinery
  13. Work which is carried out underground, underwater, in a cavern, in a tunnel, mining and mine excavation, or quarry
  14. Handling explosives, corrosives, fireworks or inflammable material, with the exception of work carried out in gas stations servicing
  15. Work carries out at construction sites, except in designated and safe areas for a child are specifically permitted by a labour inspector
  16. Demolition work
  17. Work carries out on a ladder or scaffold at a height of over 2.5 meters (such as for painting, repairing, or building structures, pruning trees, picking fruit).
  18. Work involving exposure to pathogenic agents such as work in laboratories or handling sewage
  19. Work involving exposure to harmful chemical, physical, electromagnetic or ionizing agents such as
    1. Asbestos
    1. Benzene
    1. Cadmium
    1. Mercury
    1. Lead/zinc metallurgy, white lead, lead in paint
    1. Tar, asphalt, bitumen
    1. Radioactive substances and self-luminous compounds
    1. Infra-red and ultraviolet rays, laser, radio-frequency emissions
  20. Work involving exposure to fumes, dust, gas and other ambient substances likely to cause harm to the respiratory system
  21. Handling and spraying pesticides and herbicides
  22. Operating power-driven spinning and winding machines
  23. Bleaching, dying and finishing of textiles using chemicals
  24. Applying electrical fittings, including work as linemen and cable jointers
  25. Work nearby furnaces or kilns as part of the manufacturing process of glass, ceramics or bricks
  26. Production of alcoholic beverages such as spirits, beer and wine
  27. Work in entertainment such as bartenders, masseurs, dancers, and as waiters in nightclubs, massage parlours, dance for guest entertainment out of art performance and places where alcoholic beverages are served. For vocational training and employer’s training can employ the child.
  28. Work related to gambling such as dealers, croupiers, bookies and bet takers
  29. Work related to the production, processing or transportation of drugs or pharmaceutical products
  30. Tanning (processing)
  31. Lifeguards in swimming pools and resorts
  32. Work in a blacksmith’s workshop
  33. Work in abattoirs (slaughterhouses) and meat rendering
  34. Extracting lard and oil
  35. Work as security guards
  36. Work in dangerous sports such as jockeys, horse-trainers, and martial arts instructors or at shooting ranges
  37. Work as embalmers
  38. Work carried out under conditions of excessive heat, cold, vibration, sound and abnormal lighting that could endanger

Prakas on Procedure for Recruitment of Young Workers[31]

Article 5:

Before employing a young worker/employee in an enterprise/establishment, the employer shall comply with the following:

  • The employer shall thoroughly and properly check 3 of the following documents:
  • Cambodian Identification Card
  • Family Record Book or Family Book
  • Birth Certificate or certified copy of Birth Certificate
  • Diploma or Certificate
  • The employer shall interview the young worker/employee with the acknowledgement and assurance from their parents or guardian to verify and assess the documents and the physical appearance of the young worker/employee.
  • The employer shall have an employment contract with consent of the parents or guardian of the young worker/employee in accordance with Article 181 of the Labour Law.
  • In case of suspecting that the worker/employee is below the legally required age, the employer shall send the documents to the Department of Child Labour and the Department of Occupational Health of the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training to certify the identity, fitness and health conditions that can be allowed for employment.
  • The employer shall send documents that have a list of names of young workers/employees and application form for being certified to the Department of Child Labour of the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training to authorize the use of young worker/employee.
  • The employer shall have a book for listing the names of young workers/employees from 15 years of age to under 18 years of age at the enterprise, factory, establishment.

Article 6:

When the young worker/employee is employed, the employer of establishment, factory, enterprise shall respect the procedures stipulated in International Conventions, Labour Law and Prakas related to child labour as follows:

  • Shall not work in dangerous working conditions and the worst form of child labor.
  • Shall have proper vocational training
  • Shall not work overtime on Sunday, public holidays and between 22:00 pm and 5:00 am.
  • The employer must respect the regulations and other standards related to child rights

Ministry of Social Affairs, Action Plan on Violence against Children[32]

Child Labour

The National Action Plan on the Elimination of Worst Forms of Child Labour (2016-2025) determines Child Labour as any forms of paid and unpaid labour that affect psychosocial, physical, social and ethical development of the child under the age of 18, particular their education.  Child work is a form of educational activity that equip the child with life skills that are productive to child’s future and is a part of the family based skills that are not considered as child labour. (…) Child Labour is a complicated social phenomenon that is connected with the socio-economic and social attitude.  Poverty and low education are key factors that contribute to child labour in Cambodia.  Families with low income, lack of skills and low education are more likely to exploit child labour in order to sustain and support their daily living condition.  Therefore, child labour are prevalence across different geographical areas, economic activities and in other forms of labour sectors.  The 2013 Labour Force and Child Labour Survey indicated that children age between 15-17 years old worked in average 3 hours per day or 21 hours per month.  Among four million children age 15-17 years, 775,245 (19%) were child labourers and among them 6% worked in hazardous forms, 4.9% engaged in other forms of child labour and 8.2% worked in a safe working condition.

The distribution of child labour in various labour sectors in 2012 indicated that approximately 50.4% of children worked in agriculture, forestry and fishery, 19% worked in manufacturing sector, 14.7% worked in commerce and mechanic sectors, 3.7% in construction and 5.1% worked in accommodation and food sectors. 

US, Findings on Worst Forms of Child Labour in Cambodia[33]

In 2019, Cambodia made a minimal advancement in efforts to eliminate the worst forms of child labour. The government, in conjunction with the ILO, conducted its first nationwide survey of child labour since 2012, with data scheduled for release in 2020. In addition, the government signed an agreement expanding funding to allow the International Labour Organization’s Better Factories Cambodia program to extend its monitoring mandate to additional sectors, including to formal subcontracting factories where child labour is found. However, despite new initiatives to address child labour, Cambodia is receiving an assessment of minimal advancement because the government failed to take active measures to investigate, prosecute, convict, and sentence public officials who participate in or facilitate the worst forms of child labour, including commercial sexual exploitation of children and debt-based forced labour in brick kilns… Children in Cambodia engage in the worst forms of child labour, including in forced labour in brickmaking and in commercial sexual exploitation, sometimes as a result of human trafficking. Insufficient resources may hamper the labour inspectorate’s capacity to enforce child labour laws, especially in rural areas where the majority of child labourers work. In addition, continuing challenges in accessing basic education and the absence of a compulsory education requirement increase children’s vulnerability to involvement in the worst forms of child labour.

In 2019, the government announced an ambitious plan to eliminate child labour in the brick industry by the end of the year, and conducted a census of all 486 operational kilns in the country to document the prevalence of child labour in the brickmaking sector. Although the government will not publish results from the census until late 2020, the government inspectors announced that no child labour or debt bondage was found at these kilns and, therefore, inspectors did not issue any fines.  However, in 2019 independent researchers documented at least 638 cases of child labour at brick kilns, in addition to situations of debt bondage at 464 operational kilns. Following completion of the government census, officials required brick kiln owners to sign contracts with 1,259 brick kiln family workers, agreeing not to loan them any money.

Better Factories Cambodia, Child Labour Remediation in Garment and Textiles[34]

The effective abolition of child labour is a goal of the ILO and BFC’s tripartite partners in Cambodia—Government, GMAC, and unions…To help combat this, BFC encourages factories to develop effective recruitment practices.  In addition, BFC factory monitors observe the entire workplace, review documents, and interview workers for indications that the factory employs children below 15 years old.

BFC Child Labour Investigation and Remediation Process 

LICADHO, Built on Slavery Debt Bondage: Cambodia’s Brick Factories[35]

This report brings to light the widespread use of debt bondage in Cambodian brick factories and the role it plays in encouraging and sustaining child labour. The two practices are closely related and together are responsible for trapping multiple generations of families in a repeating cycle of poverty and servitude.

Brick factory workers all start out poor and because of a variety of factors such as unemployment, landlessness, sickness, and poor education and skills, they turn to brick factory work as a solution to their immediate problem of not being able to provide for themselves. Brick factory owners exploit their poverty and desperation and provide working conditions that mean that it is very unlikely that they will ever escape their poverty. Because of the debts they owe and the low rates of pay, most are only just able to subsist. They are unable to save any money for contingencies such as pregnancy or sickness or injury that require medical treatment and when such events occur they become more indebted. Furthermore, because they are paid per brick made rather than receiving a salary, there is a strong inducement to allow their children to work alongside them in order to increase the family income. One consequence of this is that the children are unable to go to school or drop out of school early and most remain without even basic literacy and numeracy skills. As a result the children become trapped in the same situation as their parents and the most likely outcome for the children is that they will inherit their parents’ debt and eventually pass that debt on to their own children.

The main beneficiaries of this system are the factory owners who, conceivably in perpetuity, profit from a cheap and biddable workforce, and the buyers of bricks – from private individuals building their own homes to Cambodian and international companies undertaking largescale construction projects – who are able to purchase bricks for a price far below the true value of the labour that goes into making them.

Whilst the poverty that propels people into brick factory work is a complex issue to solve, the impunity that enables their ongoing exploitation is not. Both debt bondage and child labour are illegal, with harsh penalties for the use of debt bondage in particular. However, both persist, usually in full view and in the full knowledge of the authorities who carry at least some of the responsibility for eliminating them. Those authorities and the police must report and take legal action against brick factory owners whose businesses rely on debt bondage and child labour. They must be supported in doing so by the courts, the government and the purchasers of bricks. Until this occurs, this brutal form of contemporary slavery will continue to flourish inside Cambodia.

Demetriadi & McCready, Child Labour Ranking Index[36]

Consulting firm Verisk Maplecroft has ranked Cambodia 28th in the world and the highest risk in Southeast Asia for the use of child labour in its 2020 index. The Southeast Asia region as a whole faired poorly, with seven countries deemed at ‘extreme’ or ‘high’ risk.

Children in both Cambodia and Myanmar (ranked 30th), the worst scorers in Southeast Asia, were deemed at ‘extreme risk’ of being inducted into labour. Laos (50), Thailand (70), the Philippines (81), Indonesia (83) and Vietnam (83) were all also deemed ‘high-risk’ countries for child labour.

Hong, How Should Multinational Corporations Accommodate Child Workers?[37]

Tourists can easily observe many children on the street in Cambodia involved in economic activities such as scavenging, begging and polishing shoes. Cambodia has also been known as “a country of origin, transit and destination for trafficking in children for the purposes of commercial sexual exploitation and various forms of work, including forced labour and begging.”   Cambodian children are traded to other Southeast Asian countries, such as Thailand and Malaysia, for the purpose of bonded labour or sex trafficking. Sexual exploitation of children and bonded labour are serious and notorious problems in Cambodia.  Children are usually forced to work due to extreme poverty in their families, and many carry the additional burden of paying off family debts.

Although schooling up to nine years of age is free to all citizens of Cambodia based on Article 68 of the Constitution, education is not really free. There are extra costs, such as uniforms, books, and admission fees, and public school teachers also demand unofficial fees to supplement their low incomes; none of these contributes to affordable education for families.  Because of this expensive “free” education, families tend to send only male children, or no children, to school to save money.(…)

Social responsibility is a complicated term to define. It has much a deeper meaning than being just a simple procedure, one paragraph of a corporation’s code of conduct, or a single policy. Corporations have been adopting a disengaging strategy to address the child labour issue by eliminating child workers from their suppliers’ factories. However, they have not considered the consequences of children losing their jobs. Additionally, many companies naively claim that their products are “free of child labour”; however, with the approach they take to address the child labour practices, their products are never truly free of child labour, due to the concatenating structure of the supply chain. It is impossible to completely eliminate child labour from the entire supply chain when outsourcing to developing countries, where child labour is prevalent.

Beresford, Child Labour and Gender Discrimination in the Garment Industry[38]

We found that: (i) the falsification of ID certificates is a widespread practice among minors, allowing them to bypass the requirement demanded by factories of being 18 years old; and (ii) caring duties remain the main reason why women leave the factory. These results make clear how, notwithstanding the improvement in the factory-level implementation of labour rights, the eradication of child labour is far from complete and gender relations still strongly discriminate against the career prospects of rural women. In both cases, the persistence of practices in contrast with core BFC labour standards suggests that factory-level monitoring alone is not able to improve structural conditions in the sending communities.


  1. What is child labour and why are there several minimum ages for work?
  2. What are the restrictions for young workers from 15 to 18 years old? 
  3. What are the rationales for prohibiting child labour?
  4. What measures should employers take to prevent child labour at their workplaces? How could employers avoid recruiting underage workers or engaging in child labour?
  5. What are the types of work to which the children can contribute? What are the age requirements for those types of work?
  6. What is the problem with a brand terminating the contracts of suppliers caught using child labour?
  7. Why do international brands prefer using multistakeholder partnerships to tackle child labour?
  8. Should child labour be restricted and controlled or can it be beneficial to children? What is the relationship between child labor and vocational training?

Further Readings

BFC, Guide to the Cambodian Labour Law for the Garment Industry (2019)

[1] UNICEF, A Statistical Profile of Child Protection in Cambodia (2020)

[2] International Labour Organisation (ILO), Trade Unions and Child Labour – A tool for Action (2016)—ed_dialogue/—actrav/documents/publication/wcms_463161.pdf.

[3] International Labour Organisation (ILO), World Report on Child Labour, Economic Vulnerability, Social Protection and the Fight Against Child Labour (2013)

[4] International Labour Organisation (ILO), Minimum Age Convention (No. C138), (1973)

[5] International Labour Organisation (ILO), How to Do Business with Respect for Children’s Right to be Free from Child Labour: ILO-IOE Child Labour Guidance Tool for Business (2015)–en/index.htm.

[6] International Labour Organisation (ILO), Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention (No. 182), (1999)

[7] Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989)

[8] Committee on the Rights of the Child, General Comment No. 16 on State Obligations Regarding the Impact of the Business Sector on Children’s Rights (2013)

[9] International Finance Corporation (IFC), Performance Standard 2 – Labor and Working Conditions (2012)

[10] International Finance Corporation (IFC), Guidance Notes: Performance Standards on Environmental and Social Sustainability (2012)

[11] UNICEF, CSR Corporate Social Responsibility & UNICEF-Children’s Rights and Business Principles (2012)

[12] Global Reporting Initiative, G4 Sustainability Reporting Guidelines (2013)

[13] Social Accountability International, SA8000 – Social Accountability 8000 International Standard (2014)

[14] Ethical Trading Initiative, The ETI Base Code (2014)

[15] IKEA, The IKEA Way on Preventing Child Labour and Supporting Young Workers (2007)

[16] H&M, The H&M Group Sustainability Report (2016)

[17] H&M, Policy on Child Labour (2014)

[18] Amnesty International, ‘This Is What We Die For’: Human Rights Abuses in the Democratic Republic of the Congo Power the Global Trade in Cobalt (2016)

[19] United States, Class Action Suit Regarding Child Labour in Cobalt Mining, US District Court for the District of Columbia, Case 1:19-cv-03737 (filed 12/15/2019)

[20] Farzard Rafi Khan, Robert Ian Westwood & David M. Boje, ‘I Feel Like a Foreign Agent: NGOs and Corporate Social Responsibility Interventions into Third World Child Labor’, Human Relations 63(9) 2010’I_feel_like_a_foreign_agent’_NGOS_and_corporate_social_responsibility_interventions_into_Third_World_child_labor.

[21] Constance Thomas, ‘Addressing Child Labor in Agriculture Supply Chains within the Global Right against Child Labor’, U.C. Davis Journal of International Law & Policy 21:1 (2014)

[22] Shruti Gupta, Julie Pirsch & Tulay Girard, ‘An Empirical Examination of a Multinational Ethical Dilemma: The Issue of Child Labor’, Journal of Global Marketing 23(4) 2010

[23] UNICEF Cambodia and Division of Data, Research and Policy, A Statistical Profile of Child Protection in Cambodia (2018)

[24] Humanium, Children of Cambodia: Realizing Children’s Rights in Cambodia (2020)

[25] Cambodia, Labour Law (1997),,in%20terms%20of%20job%20opportunity.

[26] Cambodia, Education Law (2007)

[27] Cambodia, Criminal Code of the Kingdom of Cambodia (2009)

[28] Cambodia, Prakas on Category of Occupation and Light Work Permitted for Children from 12 to 15, No. 002/08 (2008)

[29] Cambodia, Prakas on Working and Living Conditions in Brick-Making Enterprise, No. 309 (2017)

[30] Cambodia, Prakas on the Prohibition of Hazardous Child Labour, No.106/04 (2004)

[31] Cambodia, Prakas on Procedure for Recruitment of Young Workers/Employees at Enterprises/Establishments, No.469/15 (2015)

[32] Ministry of Social Affairs, Veterans and Youth Rehabilitation, Action Plan to Prevent and Respond to Violence against Children 2017-2021 (2017)

[33] United States Bureau of International Labour Affairs, 2019 Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labour (2019)

[34] Better Factories Cambodia, BFC Child Labour Protocol (2020)

[35] Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (LICADHO), Built on Slavery Debt Bondage and Child Labour in Cambodia’s Brick Factories (2016)

[36] Alexi Demetriadi & Alastair McCready, ‘Child Labour Index: Cambodia Highest Risk in Region for Underage Workers’, Southeast Asia Globe (2020)

[37] Ryan Haerim Hong, Helping Child Workers: How Should Multinational Corporations Accommodate Child Workers in Southeast Asian Countries to which They Outsource? (2013)

[38] Melanie Beresford et al, Child Labour and Gender Discrimination in the Garment Industry of Kong Pisei, Cambodia  (2014)’s_garment_industry_labour_standards_the_view_from_below/links/5c5487c592851c22a3a13c1c/Cambodias-garment-industry-labour-standards-the-view-from-below.pdf.


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