Hans-Olof Nilsson, IUF President, Speech to Signing Ceremony WDACL
Director General, Deputy Director, sisters and brothers from the trade union movement around the world, representatives of governments and employers; of the ILO, IPEC and the other international organisations signing the Declaration today;
On behalf of the IUF, I welcome the decision of the ILO to dedicate this year's World Day Against Child Labour to elimination of child labour in agriculture. As the global trade union representing workers throughout the food chain we know only too well the scourge of child labour in many of our sectors.
Speakers before me have given you the statistics but I want to repeat again what to me is a shocking fact - that 132 million children work in agriculture – many of them doing things which are bad for their health, safety and education.
In the IUF we realised many years ago that we could not tackle the problem of child labour alone so we have been involved in several joint initiatives among them the Elimination of Child Labour in Tobacco Growing Foundation and the International Cocoa Initiative. Both of these bring together trade unions and companies to work on this crucial issue.
But frankly these are just drops in the ocean and so we welcome the initiative of the ILO to form a broad partnership of the international agricultural agencies to work together on child labour.
This World Day has to be just the starting point – elimination of child labour in agriculture requires a long-term, sustained commitment from this partnership, from governments, from employers, from trade unions and from civil society. So the five-year commitment in the Declaration is a good start but it can only be a start.
We need to ask many questions - why is child labour so wide spread in agriculture? What is the effect of cheap food policies on farmers and on workers? The idea of "buy one get one free" is attractive to many consumers but who pays the real price for such "special offers"?
It is another shocking fact that agricultural workers – those workers who produce the world's food often have the least resources to feed themselves and their families. Children work because their parents are poor.
We must also recognise that there is a decent work deficit in agriculture. In many countries agricultural workers are denied even the basic human right to belong to and be represented by a trade union. In Colombia, thousands if agricultural workers have died just for trying to exercise their basic human rights.
Improving living and working conditions for adults in agriculture is for IUF a key part of the struggle against child labour.
There are many issues to be dealt with – agriculture is a major user of migrant workers – in some case children themselves migrate to find work and in other cases they migrate with their parents. There is also child slavery and child forced labour in some crops. Priority has to go to eliminating these worst forms.
However there is also another worst form of child labour that is much more widespread. Farms and plantations are dangerous places – agriculture ranks alongside mining and construction as the most dangerous industries to work in. Agriculture is the industry with the most fatal accidents. Children are injured, maimed, even loose their lives because they live and work on farms. Improving health and safety on farms and plantations is a priority for IUF and we welcome the commitment within the Declaration of Intent on improving health and safety in agriculture. Governments who have ratified Convention 182 can compliment this by ratifying Convention 184 on safety and health in agriculture.
I come from a union of food workers in a wealthy country - we do have some child labour
but not in the factories where my members work. But it is not acceptable to us as food workers that the things we are processing are grown with child labour – the IUF will use the strength its affiliates have along the food chain to press major food and beverage companies to ensure that there is no child labour in their supply chains. This means admitting that there might be a problem and committing to work to eliminate it not just walking away from suppliers.
Finally, as a father myself of girls, I must insist that special attention is given to girl children who face the double burden on working in the home and in the fields and who are most often deprived of education. Guaranteeing all children have access to good quality free education in rural areas will encourage parents to send children to school and will ensue that children keep going – this is a challenge to many governments in developing countries but is a challenge that must be met if we are to attain the Millenium Development Goals and also ILO's own targets of elimination of worst forms of child labour by 2015.
Today marks the start of a revitalised effort to eliminate child labour in agriculture. The IUF welcomes this effort and will work in the new partnership to help achieve this.