After decades of disappointment and heartache, it’s time to break up with businesses’ empty promises, and call for EU-wide legislation to end child-labour for good.
Every year, for the first two weeks of February, millions of us around the world rush to the shops to pick out that special something for our special someone. Whether it’s a fleeting crush or a lifelong marriage, there is a lot of pressure to express our love through gifts on Valentine’s Day, with huge profits to be made for retailers.
In the US, Valentine’s Day is the second largest commercial holiday, with US consumers estimated to be spending a record US$20.7bn this year. In Europe, Valentine’s Day means big business, too, with Spain topping the world rankings for highest spend per person at €114 (2017).
But it seems the Valentine’s Day message of love and generosity, that companies play on in their advertising to persuade us to buy more, doesn’t always extend to the people in their own supply chains. Too often, the wages of those who are making the products we buy for those we love are so little that they are forced to bring their children to work in order to earn enough to survive, and in some cases it is children who are directly employed as labourers, with little or no wage, at the expense of their childhood and freedom.
Here’s a selection of some of our favourite Valentine’s Gifts, and the hidden injustice behind each of them:
Chocolate is one of the most popular gifts on Valentine’s Day, But the chocolate industry is one of the worst for exploiting child labourers in supply chains.
60% of the world’s cocoa comes from just two countries: Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire. In these two countries alone, 2 million children are estimated to be working in the cocoa industry (US DoL 2018).
Companies like Nestlé, Mars and Hershey, all push their products for Valentine’s Day shoppers, and all pledged to eliminate child labour from their supply chains two decades ago. Yet there is widespread evidence of children being used to supply cocoa in their products.
Ferrero, the world’s third biggest chocolate manufacturer, sells products synonymous with Valentine’s Day, including Ferrero Rocher and Rafaello. Ferrero is the world’s biggest buyer of hazelnuts and sources the majority of these from Turkey, a country which supplies 90% of the world’s hazelnuts.
A recent Guardian article reported damning evidence of child labourers being used to pick hazelnuts being sold to Ferrero. The parents interviewed in the hazelnut fields admitted they simply earned too little to support their families and had no choice but to bring their children to help with the harvest.
These chocolate companies think their products offer a sweet, tasty treat, but open the wrapper, and they’re tainted with the bitter taste of child labour.
An estimated 225 million roses are grown each year for Valentine’s Day. But who is harvesting them for your loved one?
Colombia and Ecuador are two of the world’s biggest flower-selling countries, selling 90% of the flowers sold in the US for Valentine’s Day. But in these countries, labour regulations are weak and an estimated 8% of the flowers are picked by children in Ecuador, where an estimated 12% of the country’s children work in agriculture.
There’s nothing sweet-smelling about roses picked by child labourers who should be in school.
There seems to be little effort being made by flower exporters to be tackling these child rights abuses.
It’s time to nip this exploitation in the bud and eradicate child labour from the flower industry.
Jewellery is one of the most popular Valentine’s Day gifts, with $222m spent in the UK in 2019, and a whopping $5.8bn predicted spend on jewellery in the US this year.
Behind these huge sums being paid by Valentine’s gift-givers, there’s another cost being paid across Western and Central Africa - by child labourers.
Across Africa, children are forced to carry sacks of gravel weighing 50-60kgs each out of hazardous diamond mines. They face back-breaking labour, and risk sickness and death. They then must painstakingly sift through the gravel to find diamonds.
The problem isn’t isolated to Africa. India is the world centre for cutting and polishing gemstones, including diamonds, and is one of the world’s top diamond-distributing nations. At the heart of India’s success in the diamond industry is the rampant exploitation of children to cut and polish diamonds.
Children are perceived to be more effective at cutting and polishing than adults and are forced into working 7-9 hours a day in dark, hazardous conditions to make as little as $30/month for their families.
Companies have promised an end to child labour in the diamond industry through such initiatives as the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme. But this focuses primarily on blocking the sale of ’blood diamonds‘– diamonds which are sold to finance conflict– without regard for child labour used to produce diamonds which aren’t financing conflict.
The situation is crystal-clear: laws need to be much tougher to stop the diamond industry from exploiting children in its supply chain.
Breaking up wth bad businesses
After decades of lies and failures from big businesses and their broken promises to protect children from entering their supply chains, it’s time for our lawmakers to take action.
In the EU and other countries in the global north, it’s illegal for businesses to use children in supply chains within their country of registration. For example, if a German-registered company is found to be using child labour within Germany, or any other EU-state, then it is breaking the German and EU law and will be criminally charged.
However, if that same company is found to exploit child labour through its operations or trading partners outside of the EU, there are no EU laws preventing it and they cannot be charged.
This must end to protect the rights of children everywhere.
The 100 Million campaign is calling for EU-wide legislation to prevent children from being used in supply chains for EU-registered companies operating elsewhere in the world.
100 Million Germany fights for an end to child labour in German supply chains
The fight to end child labour in international supply chains took a step forward in Germany at the end of November 2019. Starting with hundreds of youth activists from all over Germany marching the streets of Berlin and culminating in support from politicians and the German Development Ministry, this was the beginning of a huge shift in German policy. Since then a new law is in progress, which could see German companies work to ensure that no child labour is used in products sold and distributed in Germany, regardless of where they are made, which would represent a huge win for 100 Million youth activists.
We believe companies should be forced to pay working adults adequate wages so that they don’t need to force their children into work and can instead send them to school.
So, this Valentine’s Day, ditch the child-produced chocolate, flowers and jewellery and show some love and solidarity with the millions of children forced into child labour instead
Join the 100 Million campaign calling for every child to be safe, free and educated.
Take the pledge today!