promoting the sustainable and responsible production and use of cobalt in all forms

Addressing child labour in artisanal and small-scale mining: blogpost by Levin Sources

On the World Day Against Child Labour we want to step back and reflect on this issue which is often linked to mineral extraction, including cobalt extraction. The presence of child labour - and more specifically the worst forms of child labour - in cobalt extraction raises great concerns and it should, given the long-term negative impact on the lives of those impacted. Yet, addressing the worst forms of child labour is not something that can be done through due diligence and responsible sourcing practices only and we should all make sure that by promoting responsible sourcing practices we are not further hindering children´s rights by perhaps banning children from one work place and effectively pushing them towards invisible forms of labour which may be harder to identify, such as prostitution.

Child labour is a multidimensional phenomenon which requires long term, joined up strategies by private, public and civil society actors. It has numerous root causes, often linked to lack of services and infrastructure, poverty, vulnerability, social customs, and the absence of social protections. When working to address child labour, the rights of children should always be given the highest priority. For this reason, it is important to fully understand who are those children that are working, why they are working and what will happen to them once they stop working.

Often, we have seen companies adopting a risk averse attitude and halting their sourcing from ASM to avoid the risk of being linked to child labour in their supply chains. If we look at other commodities such as gold, the risk averse approach has not proven to have positive effects in addressing child labour overall. In addition, it should be noted that the sudden removal of a child from the workplace in a context of vulnerability and lack of social protection can have other negative impacts such as the sudden loss of income in vulnerable families and lead children towards other forms of hazardous and at times less visible forms of employment. This is why collective and systemic efforts are needed to end child labour in a sustainable way.

A recent study from the ILO and Levin Sources looked into existing interventions to address child labour and poor working conditions in the ASM sector in order to draw key lessons learned from and identify gaps in existing projects and initiatives that aim to address child labour. We want to share the top lessons learned which are:

  1. The ILO Convention No. 182 and almost all national legislation prohibits the involvement of children below 18 in all mining activities that are considered hazardous. Therefore, the presence and involvement of children in mining should not be allowed.
  2. Restricting access to the mining site by installing fencing and an access control system to avoid children entering the site does not eradicate child labour.
  3. The best approach to address child labour is a holistic area-based approach that addresses the root causes of child labour in mining and other sectors such as agriculture, logging, etc. in a concerted manner
  4. Artisanal miners’ cooperatives and associations, and in particular, women’s empowerment initiatives, can play a critical role in protecting children from labour.
  5. Ensuring long-term sustainability of an intervention to address child labour requires structural collaboration, effective coordination, commitment and engagement – not one off or occasional meetings – with local NGOs, CSOs, trade unions, families, multiple government agencies, industries and employers’ organisations and communities.
  6. Child labour monitoring is vital for action. Monitoring should be an integrated, multi-stakeholder effort and conducted effectively at the community level.
  7. Standards aim to tackle child labour through compliance and/or certification schemes, ASM standards are diverse, and most of them require their members undergo regular audits. However, the requirements’ stringency and tactics vary widely.

By Fabiana Di Lorenzo and Blanca Racionero Gomez, Levin Sources