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The Netherlands's Plan to Cut Child Labor Out of Products

Dutch Law Would Make Companies Address Exploitation

In a typical department store or mall, shoppers have little way of knowing if what they buy – a piece of clothing, jewelry, or the latest electronics – was made with child labor. Shoppers in the Netherlands, however, may soon have assurances that their products are child labor-free.

A 11-year-old girl (front) and an 9-year-old girl (back) harvest tobacco on a farm near Sumenep, East Java. © 2015 Marcus Bleasdale for Human Rights Watch

In the Netherlands, a groundbreaking law would require companies doing business in the country to examine whether child labor occurs in their supply chains, and to develop a plan of action to address any child labor that is found.

The law would be the first in the Netherlands to make human rights “due diligence” mandatory for companies. It would require that companies not only to look at their direct suppliers, but also whether there is a “reasonable suspicion” that child labor occurs further down their supply chain. This is important, since in today’s global economy the manufacture of goods often spans multiple countries and production sites. A company may ban child labor in its factories, for example, but use raw materials produced by children.

In our research, my colleagues and I have found children who risk nicotine poisoning cultivating tobacco in Indonesia, who suffer injuries and toxic mercury exposure while mining gold in Ghana, who experience horrific industrial accidents in Bangladesh’s tannery industry, and who work in extreme temperatures in pesticide-soaked fields in the United States. The resulting products – cigarettes, jewelry, handbags, or vegetables – may all be tainted with child labor.

The proposed Dutch law still needs to move through the Dutch Senate. If approved, it would take effect in 2020, giving companies time to put due diligence in place. It will also give Dutch shoppers more confidence that they aren’t buying goods made at the expense of children. 

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