It’s in the chocolate we eat, the clothes we wear, and even in the stones that line our driveways. Child labour is so pervasive that many people don’t realise the products they consume are made, in part, by children in developing countries.
When it comes to investing, how can we be sure that our personal investments and superannuation are being used in ways that don’t support child labour?
The United Nations provides the following facts on child labour around the world:
- 168 million children aged 5-17 are engaged in child labour
- 85 million children are engaged in the hazardous child labour
- 5.5 million children are engaged in unacceptable forms of child labour such as prostitution, military enrolment, slavery or trafficking
- 58% of child labour is in agriculture
Due to the nefarious nature of child labour, these are rough estimates at best. To put things into perspective, there are only approximately 4 million children aged 5-17 in Australia. This represents just 0.2% of the size of the child labour market.
Why are 168 million children engaged in child labour around the world? Poverty plays a key part. More than one billion people live on less than AUD $1.25 a day, and everyone in these families works, including children. Other factors include unaffordable or poor quality education, poor cultural attitudes towards education (often particularly for girls), and prolonged illness or death of parents. This is just the tip of the very complex iceberg that is child labour.
At the same time, companies compete against one another to lower costs of production to meet demands from consumers for lower prices. So being able to source cheap labour isn’t about beating your competitors, but rather, keeping up with them. The opacity of supply chains also hinders companies being able to readily address the issue internally.
International laws and regulations
Understanding how the world sees child labour is important for understanding why it is problematic. After all, you might have had a paper route or worked on checkout when you were younger for pocket money, but this doesn’t mean you were exploited. The United Nations sets out the following guidelines for minimum ages of work:
- Hazardous work (18 and up): Work which is likely to jeopardize children’s physical, mental or moral health, safety or morals should not be done by anyone under the age of 18.
- Basic minimum age (15 and up): The minimum age for work should not be below the age for compulsory schooling, which is generally 15.
- Light work (13 and up): Children above 13 can do light work, provided it doesn’t impact their schooling or training, and doesn’t impact their health and safety.
Christian Super’s commitment
As an investor, a boycott of all companies with child labour issues sends a one way message. But this isn’t the only way to make a difference. We believe having two-way dialogue with companies is the key. We are currently working together with investors around the globe (through the United Nations Principles for Responsible Investment (UNPRI)) to engage with many key companies that are industry leaders, in the hope of effecting change in entire industries. Key companies include Wal-Mart, Coca-Cola and Kraft Foods.
And the dialogue isn’t just centred on child labour, but labour standards at large within company supply chains.
Investing where it matters
At Christian Super, we’re also addressing the pervasive issue of poverty by investing in developing economies. This means giving a hand up, rather than a hand out.
Through our micro finance investments and microinsurance, we invest in over 50 different low-income financial institutions across the developing world, from places like India to the DR Congo. We also favour companies that are giving back to the communities they are in through philanthropic and charitable endeavours.
In everyone’s best interests
We know addressing child labour is the right thing to do, but it’s also in the best interests of Christian Australians everywhere. According to World Vision, child labour has been shown to:
- Increase adult unemployment
- Limit the technological and economical growth of a country
- Decrease prosperity
- Undereducated and underskilled adult workers
Economic prosperity abroad is good for Australia. It creates more markets for our own industries and sustainable growth in markets that supply us with goods and services. Even something as simple and knowing where your coffee, chocolate and sugar come from can play a small part in reducing child labour.
Children play a big part in God’s kingdom and His heart, and it is the same for Christian Super. The issue is complex; the solution even more so, but Christian Super is making sure their members are invested in positive change toward the 168 million children that need it the most.