CCR CSR works with busi­nesses to de­velop and im­ple­ment sus­tain­abil­ity strate­gies.

Asian coun­tries pro­duce elec­tron­ics and gar­ments to be sent all over the world. Ex­port­ing prod­ucts and in­creas­ing the num­ber of lo­cal jobs helps grow the economies of de­vel­op­ing coun­tries.

Norway-Asia Business Review - - Contents - ANRIKE VISSER

How­ever, in Malaysia and more re­cently Myan­mar, some work­ers in the man­u­fac­tur­ing in­dus­tries have found that they could use a hand to im­prove the vul­ner­a­ble position they now find them­selves in be­cause of this growth.

The Cen­ter for Child-Rights and Cor­po­rate So­cial Re­spon­si­bil­ity (CCR CSR) works with busi­nesses to keep man­u­fac­tur­ing safe for the work­ers, in par­tic­u­lar from a child rights per­spec­tive. Busi­nesses like HP, H&M and Varner recog­nise the need to pro­tect their work­ers and their rep­u­ta­tion. Ac­cord­ing to Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor Ms Ines Kämpfer, cus­tomers and in­vestors (es­pe­cially from North­ern Euro­pean coun­tries) con­sider it im­por­tant to pro­duce in a sus­tain­able and re­spon­si­ble man­ner. “The ar­gu­ment ‘we didn’t know’ doesn’t sat­isfy con­sumers any more.”

CCR CSR is ac­tive in China, Myan­mar, Bangladesh, Viet­nam, Malaysia and will be ex­tend­ing their op­er­a­tions to Thai­land this year. CCR CSR, a so­cial en­ter­prise set up within the Save the Chil­dren net­work, con­sults busi­nesses about how to pro­tect work­ers that are of­ten young, mi­grants, have young chil­dren them­selves, or all of the above. “We train busi­nesses about hav­ing a pos­i­tive im­pact on their work­ers, and work­ers about get­ting ahead and speak­ing up about dif­fi­cul­ties.”

In Myan­mar, CCR CSR's work has a strong fo­cus on child labour preven­tion but also on the need for fac­to­ries to be open to hir­ing work­ers who've reached the le­gal work­ing age. In many cases, first tier fac­to­ries (of­ten re­ferred to as the "good fac­to­ries" due to their com­pli­ance with in­ter­na­tional au­dit­ing pro­to­cols) opt to shun un­der 18s from the work­force al­to­gether.

“In many coun­tries it is le­gal for chil­dren un­der 18 to work af­ter a cer­tain age. Fam­i­lies of­ten need the money and can’t af­ford to pay for ed­u­ca­tion. If the best fac­to­ries send these chil­dren away, they will likely end up work­ing for worse fac­to­ries or in the in­for­mal sec­tor where there is no con­trol at all. We en­cour­age busi­nesses to take re­spon­si­bil­ity for their young work­ers and to see the value in in­vest­ing in youth devel­op­ment.”

In Myan­mar one in five1 chil­dren be­tween the ages of 10 and 17 work in­stead of go­ing to school. “In Myan­mar there is a big gap in ed­u­ca­tion; it is still a very poor coun­try. Only 56% of chil­dren en­rol into se­condary school, which starts at the age of 10. 25% of them drop out, so that only 39% make it to up­per se­condary school.” Ac­cord­ing to Ms Kämpfer, ed­u­ca­tion is be­ing re­formed at the mo­ment. It has only re­cently been made manda­tory, but it’s still not free so many fam­i­lies can’t pay for it. Ad­di­tion­ally, there is pres­sure to start work­ing early be­cause the salary of the par­ents of­ten is not enough to sus­tain the whole fam­ily.

Re­cent de­vel­op­ments of open­ing Myan­mar up to the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity have seen an in­flux of in­vest­ments, but it has also high­lighted the com­plex­ity of en­sur­ing child-labour free sup­ply chains. “We have seen re­ports of child labour or of ju­ve­nile work­ers work­ing with­out the pro­tec­tion and spe­cial rights they legally de­serve. It is a challenge for com­pa­nies to know

how to deal with the young work­ers. In Myan­mar it is le­gal for chil­dren at the age of 14 to work for 4 hours a day. Af­ter the age of 16 they can work longer, but only with a doc­tor’s cer­tifi­cate stat­ing they are fit to work and un­der a set of pro­tec­tive reg­u­la­tions. We are work­ing with for­eign buy­ers to es­tab­lish fac­tory man­age­ment sys­tems that do take into ac­count the le­gal re­quire­ments and what that means for child pro­tec­tion."

“Tak­ing re­spon­si­bil­ity doesn’t just en­tail hav­ing guards to turn away chil­dren. Pre­vent­ing child labour means sup­port­ing the growth of the econ­omy in a sus­tain­able way and specif­i­cally sup­port youth pro­grams. Com­pa­nies could of­fer classes to the young work­ers so they have a chance later on to de­cide what they want to do. Let’s say a 15-yearold worker dropped out at the age of 11. By then it’s not pos­si­ble to rein­te­grate in reg­u­lar ed­u­ca­tion, but the fac­tory could make sure there is no over­time and of­fer classes so that when they are 18 years they have op­tions.”

“In the short term it might seem bet­ter to fam­i­lies to have ad­di­tional in­come from work­ing chil­dren, but in re­al­ity this only per­pet­u­ates the sit­u­a­tion since chil­dren don’t go to school and are stuck in low pay­ing jobs for the rest of their lives. So we also train the older work­ers to speak up when they see a worker that’s too young. Of­ten it’s dif­fi­cult to es­ti­mate the age for com­pa­nies be­cause of forged ID’s. Speak­ing up teaches the older work­ers that of­ten have chil­dren them­selves that they should not send their young chil­dren to fac­to­ries.”

“When a worker is iden­ti­fied that is too young we teach the fac­to­ries to send them to ini­tia­tives that sup­port them. Com­pa­nies don’t have to be­come so­cial work­ers them­selves, but they should link up with so­cial ini­tia­tives. Myan­mar has a so­cial work pro­gram by Save the Chil­dren and UNICEF. There also is a mo­bile ed­u­ca­tion pro­gram for ed­u­ca­tion via smart­phones and a few good ini­tia­tives from lo­cal monastery schools.” CCR CSR is also cur­rently im­ple­ment­ing a Child Labour Re­sponse Ac­tion Project that aims to cre­ate sys­tem­atic change in the way child labour preven­tion and re­me­di­a­tion is han­dled in Myan­mar.

In Malaysia, chil­dren are work­ing age from 16 years and older. As well as be­ing young, they are also of­ten mi­grants. In Malaysia, it is thought that mi­grant work­ers ac­count for about 40% of the coun­try's work­force, with a sub­stan­tial num­ber of these peo­ple find­ing work in the elec­tron­ics sec­tor. Many of them are young, fe­male work­ers out on their first job, leav­ing them vul­ner­a­ble and sus­cep­ti­ble to ex­ploita­tion. "We work with brands and their sup­pli­ers to in­tro­duce train­ings in fac­to­ries that tar­get both the work­ers them­selves and the man­age­ment. En­sur­ing man­age­ment un­der­stands the chal­lenges young work­ers face is a cru­cial first step in creat­ing de­cent work­ing con­di­tions."

“With our train­ing pro­gram we teach su­per­vi­sors to be more un­der­stand­ing and ap­ply very prac­ti­cal com­mu­ni­ca­tion skills so the girls feel safe to speak their minds. The girls are trained about pro­fes­sional be­hav­iour, how to get ahead, and be more proac­tive. Of the girls that re­ceived the train­ing more of them have ad­vanced to higher po­si­tions in the com­pany a few years down the line. One of the busi­nesses we work with in Malaysia is HP.”

The ef­forts of CCR CSR, lo­cal ini­tia­tives and com­pa­nies have had an im­pact over the years. Ac­cord­ing to Ms Kämpfer more fac­to­ries have gained aware­ness about the value of in­vest­ing in youth devel­op­ment and many fac­to­ries are em­brac­ing child la­bor preven­tion and re­me­di­a­tion prac­tices that con­sider the best in­ter­est of the child. How­ever, the work is far from done. “In some cases we have pushed the prob­lem down to sub­con­trac­tors or the in­for­mal sec­tors. Child labour has be­come more hid­den in those in­stances, and some of the worst cases have been found down the line. In gen­eral, the prob­lem has im­proved also be­cause of eco­nomic growth, but com­pa­nies should dig deeper now and also look at the ac­tiv­i­ties of their sub­con­trac­tors. There ac­tu­ally is more de­mand for trans­parency about the com­plete pro­duc­tion line nowa­days. Ad­di­tion­ally, check­ing the ac­tiv­i­ties of all man­u­fac­tur­ing chains in­creases prod­uct qual­ity and pre­vents en­vi­ron­men­tal is­sues.”

CCR CSR con­ducts stud­ies and shares the find­ings with the mem­bers of their work­ing groups. Gain­ing in­sight in the com­plete pro­duc­tion line can be dif­fi­cult and re­quires some ad­di­tional work. “The work­ing groups con­sist of com­pa­nies to dis­cuss best prac­tices and ap­proaches dur­ing meet­ings in Hong Kong. We share our stud­ies and cre­ate guide­lines to­gether with the mem­bers, like the re­cent guide­lines on Ju­ve­nile & Young Work­ers. The work­ing groups are a source of in­for­ma­tion for many par­tic­i­pants and there also is an on­line work­ing group that comes to­gether via we­bi­nar and en­ables par­tic­i­pants to join from all over the world.”

One of the par­tic­i­pants of the work­ing groups is Nor­we­gian firm Varner. Varner is in the gar­ment in­dus­try and has been work­ing with CCR CSR since 2014. “Com­pa­nies some­times will in­te­grate the tips in their fac­to­ries or cre­ate pro­grams to strengthen chil­dren’s rights. In China we have seen one of the most child friendly fac­to­ries with its own school for work­ers and chil­dren of work­ers. Fam­i­lies live to­gether on the cam­pus of the fac­tory.”

PHOTO: CEN­TER FOR CHILD-RIGHTS AND COR­PO­RATE SO­CIAL RE­SPON­SI­BIL­ITY

PHOTO: CEN­TER FOR CHILD-RIGHTS AND COR­PO­RATE SO­CIAL RE­SPON­SI­BIL­ITY

Above left: A young worker in a fac­tory in Dong­guan, China. Above: A fac­tory HR man­ager in Myan­mar takes part in CCR CSR’s Train­ing of Train­ers ses­sion to grasp the skills needed for child labour preven­tion and re­me­di­a­tion.

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