Paris Peace Forum : High-Level Panel “Acting Together for a World Free of Child Labour and Forced Labour”


Remarks by Angel Gurría

OECD Secretary-General

12 November, 2019 - Paris, France

(As prepared for delivery)



1. How does the global legal architecture and governance structure on child labour and forced labour translate into effective national implementation?

I am glad to join forces with my colleagues here to end up child labor!

How can we do better? By ensuring we make use of the tools and instruments we have available.

First, we need to build the evidence base to understand the complexity of child labour and forced labour and tackle the problem at all levels and all stages of the supply chains. This is precisely the aim of our report Ending child labour, forced labour and human trafficking in global supply chains. Jointly authored by the ILO, OECD, IOM and UNICEF under the aegis of Alliance 8.7, this is the first ever attempt to measure these human rights abuses and violations on a large scale. The report responds to the call of G20 Labour and Employment Ministers in July 2017, and was delivered to them at their Ministerial meeting in Japan last September.

Significant progress has been made over recent decades in reducing child and forced labour: However, in 2016 there were still around 152 million children were in child labour worldwide! It is almost half what they were in 2000, but still, unacceptable.

The pace of progress has slowed down since 2012 and the problem is even increasing in some regions! Let me take a few examples from the OECD’s recent data and share the findings of the report:

‒ In 2016, there were one-in-ten children aged 5 to 17 engaged in child labour, and nearly half of them were in hazardous work.

About nine-in-ten children involved in child labour live in Africa, Asia and the Pacific.

• Child labour and forced labour are present at every stage of the production process in supply chains: depending on the region, between 28% and 43% of child labour estimated to contribute to exports does so indirectly, particularly in industries such as the extraction of raw materials or in agriculture. Efforts to end child labour will be inadequate if they do not extend beyond immediate supplier. 

Second, governments have a responsibility to establish and enforce a framework for responsible business conduct. This is why the OECD is working tirelessly with governments to establish and implement the Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, setting National Contact Points and ensuring that governments have the legal framework for effective administration of criminal and labour justice.

Third, even when such frameworks exist, adequate capacity for enforcement is needed to keep pace with the mutations of forced labour. Many administrations, especially in developing countries, are woefully understaffed and operate under severe budgetary restrictions, preventing them from identifying the traffickers and employers of forced labour and bringing them to justice through courts.

We really need a whole-of-government approach is required to develop holistic responses to child labour, forced labour and human trafficking that can be implemented at scale.

Finally, we need to change the conditions of deprivation and abuse that allow for this to happen, and raise awareness of the impact of forced labour in a life cycle perspective. As my friend Kailash Satyarti says, we need to let children to be children!


2. What is the role of governments, business, unions, civil society, the UN and research?

Building a healthy business environment is in the interest of all stakeholders and demands effort by all.

The socio economic pressures that lead the poorest and most vulnerable families to fall into the trap of forced labour and human trafficking places even greater responsibility on the actors in power.

Governments, businesses and civil society all have a duty to act responsibly.

- Businesses can adopt corporate responsibility instruments, such as the OECD MNE Guidelines, to tackle child labour, forced labour and human trafficking in their global supply chains. All this requires common understanding and a commitment to focus on upstream and subcontracted segments of the supply chain, where risks are most significant. We just launched the B4IG and many companies are committing to a positive agenda for impact.

- What role for government? While business has an obligation to act responsibly on the ground, governments have a major role to play in ensuring that the rule of law is respected. They also need to ensure that policies contribute to improve the living conditions, so that the root causes of child labour –poverty, informality, deficient education systems, the absence of social services and infrastructure, as well as social norms – are eliminated. Government can act in three ways:

  • First, governments have first and foremost the duty of care and to protect the most vulnerable. They can do this by law enforcement, and by leading by example when choosing to procure goods and services.
  • Second, governments can step up their policy efforts by agreeing action plans on business and human rights or on responsible business conduct, consistent with the UN Guiding Principles and the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises. As of September 2019, 23 countries have adopted national action plans and four countries are in the process of developing one. This helps provide an overarching policy framework for responsible business conduct and ensure national-level coordination and coherence within the government.
  • Third, Governments can help raise awareness. For example, many advanced economies have excellent reporting systems such as “national contact points” to implement the OECD MNE guideline. But often the biggest abuses that occur in developing countries’ supply chains go unreported. More needs to be done here, including in support for civil society and development organisations to build capacity and help ensure reporting gets through to the relevant mechanisms in advanced economies.



3. How are these issues related to the wider peace and security agenda?

The French writer Antoine de Saint-Exupéry once said that “to be human is to be responsible; […] to be aware, when setting one stone, that you are building a world.”

Companies and governments have a responsibility to build a world in which children should be protected against trafficking and forced labour.

The OECD has been looking at global value chains and how they are contributing to wider peace and security. For instance, the OECD Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Supply Chains of Minerals from Conflict-Affected and High-Risk Areas is helping companies respect human rights by providing concrete recommendations on how they can conduct due diligence of child labour-related risks and avoid contributing to conflict through their mineral purchasing decisions and practices.

But more than anything, we have been proposing a people’s centered growth that delivers better for people and for the planet. In the context of increased inequalities of income and opportunities across the world, inclusive growth is the only way forward.

The achievement of human rights are indisputable for the achievement of wider peace and security. Together we can create the enabling environment for that to happen. 


4. How can enterprise, trade and investment policies foster commitment with international labour and human rights standards?

The 2008 global crisis has clearly demonstrated that markets need integrity – they need to work for people and not the other way around.

Governments are increasingly using trade and investment policies to promote respect for human rights and international labour standards in global supply chains. Doing so sends a clear message to enterprises, trading and investment partners that no competitive advantage can be gained by resorting to child labour, forced labour or human trafficking.

As of mid-2019, 85 regional trade agreements included labour provisions, representing about one-third of the total regional trade agreements in force and notified to the World Trade Organization. While we see in the last years an uptake of labour rights provisions in trade and investment policies, we need to strengthen efforts to ensure a global playing field.

And in the age of Internet and citizens’ mobilisation on online platforms, demand for responsible treatment of employees, customers and other stakeholders is also growing, as is indignation about irresponsible business conduct. In fact, businesses are increasingly demanding guidance when it comes to developing due diligence instruments, such as the OECD MNE Guidelines, and methodologies to assess their supply chains.
This means including all actors in the global economy and taking active steps to ensure that such commitments move from the voluntary/ aspirational realm to the core of trade and investment policies with hard consequences.  


5. What is the governance model and work of the Alliance 8.7 contributing to address these issues?

This work is monumental. It is the first ever example of collaboration between the UN, ILO and OECD on providing joint recommendations on child labour and forced labour in global supply chains. This is an important step that has allowed us to fathom the magnitude of the challenge.
But much remains to be done:


  • We need to continue efforts to develop measurement tools and further develop the evidence base on the prevalence of child labour and forced labour in global supply chains to inform action.

  • We need to continue to support governments in designing policies that can effectively tackle these issues from home countries and in host countries.

  • Finally, we need to work more with the business to guide them, provide them with the instruments, and develop partnerships with them.  And the business is increasingly demanding these tools.


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