As economies become ever more integrated and the revolution in information and communications technology continues, the world is getting smaller at the same time that supply chains are getting more complex. The challenge that employers face to demonstrate that they respect human rights, to act with due diligence to avoid infringing the rights of others and to address adverse impacts that occur, has never been clearer. How to do this in contexts of widespread informality, insufficient law enforcement and persistent poverty, however, is far from simple. Child labour is a case in point: despite rapid gains in recent years, there are still 168 million child labourers in the world today, across all regions and sectors.
The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs), adopted unanimously in 2011 by the UN Human Rights Council, provide a blueprint for employers to develop robust management systems for due diligence. Crucially, they also address the government duty to protect individuals from violations of human rights, including those in which enterprises are involved, and the need for greater access to remedy. The UNGPs do not create new legal obligations but clarify what existing international instruments mean for business, and they directly reference the ILO’s 1998 Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work. ILO Convention No. 138 on Minimum Age (1973), and ILO Convention No. 182 on Worst Forms of Child Labour (1999) are among the fundamental principles and rights at work and these Conventions, though binding only on governments that ratify them, are the relevant child labour standards for supply chains.