Shoe companies keep silent about child labour
There are still shoes produced by children for sale in the Netherlands. However, most companies selling shoes on the Dutch market do not respond when asked how they address the issue of child labour in their supply chain. On 12 June, World Day against Child labour, a new campaign ‘We want childfriendly shoes’ is launched by ‘Stop Child Labour – School is the best place to work’. In this campaign, consumers are encouraged to tell shoe companies that they do not want shoes produced by children.
A recent study by the Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations (SOMO) commissioned by Stop Child Labour reveals that in India children aged 12 – 14 are working for us. This work is harmful to their health and often gets in the way of their right to education. “What’s happening is that child labour has moved from the first supplier in the shoe production chain to subcontractors ‘further down’ the supply chain,” explains Sofie Ovaa, coordinator of the Stop Child Labour campaign.
Both in leather tanneries and in shoe factories a lot of the work is regularly subcontracted out to medium-sized factories and to small workshops that employ home workers. Child labour occurs in these factories and workshops, including the manufacturing of leather shoes for export. It was found that child labour occurs in the supply chain of at least eight of the 28 companies included in this study. Inspections do not take place because most international brands merely focus on their suppliers who are first in line of the supply chain.
Most shoe companies are not prepared to provide information about where and by whom their shoes are produced. Neither do they want to discuss their approach against child labour. Repeated requests for information remain unanswered by the following shoe companies: Bata, Birkenstock, Van Bommel, Bugatti, Cruijff Sports, Dr. Martens, ECCO, Fred de la Bretonière, Gabor, Van Lier, Lotto Sport, Sacha Shoes, Schoenenreus, UGGs, Veja, Van Woensel and Wolky.
Another company that is not prepared to cooperate with the investigation is Bristol. However, their website clearly states that addressing the issue of child labour matters to this company. “We ensure that child labour is not used in the manufacturing process of our products. We assure our customers that our products meet social, environmental and economic standards!” Sofie Ovaa can’t help wondering “How much is this ‘assurance’ really worth to consumers if Bristol is not prepared to explain how they do it?”
A number of shoe companies did respond to the questionnaire that Stop Child Labour sent out. Even though these companies have a policy against child labour, they merely inspect their direct suppliers without including their subcontractors. The companies that did complete the questionnaire or provided information about their procedures and strategies are: Timberland, Deichmann (Van Haren), Macintosh (Scapino, Manfield, Invito, Dolcis), de Bijenkorf, Camper, Clarks, Geox and Marks & Spencers. In addition, Adidas, Nike and Puma cooperated with the investigation.
Appeal to companies
Child labour was found in the supply chains of eight of the shoe companies mentioned above. Children were working in the production of shoes in medium-sized factories and workshops supplying products to companies that sell shoes to the brands and shops mentioned above. However, Stop Child Labour is of the opinion that at this moment not one of the shoe companies included in the research is able to guarantee that their supply chain is child-labour-free. Therefore, Stop Child Labour will not publicise the names of these eight companies. First, Stop Child Labour will give the companies in question the chance to respond to the findings of this study.
Mr. Scribble comes into action: ‘I want childfriendly shoes’
Stop Child Labour calls on companies to be transparent and to take action. It’s asking consumers to support this call. Using the on-line Mr Scribble tool they can directly confront shoe companies and point out their responsibility to them. They can spread the message “I want child-friendly shoes” using social media.
In addition, Stop Child Labour will send a letter to all of the shoe companies mentioned above accompanied by the new Action Plan for Companies to Combat Child Labour (pdf).
The “We want child-friendly shoes” campaign will be launched during a conference about Human Rights and Businesses on 12 June in the Netherlands.
>> Join the online action
>> Download the SOMO report (pdf)
>> Read the letter to companies