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Netherlands Takes Big Step Toward Tackling Child Labor

New Bill Holds Companies Accountable for Every Step of the Supply Chain

"Peter," 15, working alongside a teenage girl at an artisanal and small-scale mine in Odahu, Amansie West district, Ghana.  © 2016 Juliane Kippenberg for Human Rights Watch

People are becoming more and more aware that the things they buy – like clothes, mobile phones, or even vegetables – could be the product of child labor. Consumers in the Netherlands may soon be able to buy goods with new-found confidence, thanks to a law that tackles child labor in companies’ supply chains.

On May 14, the Dutch Senate adopted the “Child Labor Due Diligence” law that obliges companies to find out whether their goods have been produced using child labor and come up with a plan to prevent child labor in its supply chain if they find it. Businesses also have to submit a statement describing their due diligence efforts to the government.

A supply chain is composed of the steps taken before a completed product reaches the shelves – from gathering raw materials through manufacturing to retail. Human Rights Watch has documented how children do backbreaking and hazardous work at many stages of this process, including in gold mines, tobacco fields, and garment factories, all of which supply the global market.

For example, in southern Ghana, I met “Peter,” a frail boy who said he was 15 but looked much younger. He was digging ore out of deep, unsecure pits and processing gold with toxic mercury. He had dropped out of primary school and told me: “I wish I could have stayed in school.” About 20 percent of global gold is supplied by small-scale mines such as Peter’s.

This bill sends an important political signal, even though it is envisaged to enter into force only in 2022, and details need to be worked out through administrative orders.

The Netherlands is not the first country to take steps toward tackling child labor. In the past few years, several countries have started to introduce more stringent rules around supply chains. France is requiring large companies to conduct due diligence for human rights generally, while the United Kingdom and Australia have introduced legislation on modern slavery in global supply chains.

It is encouraging to see that lawmakers in the Netherlands have joined this trend and decided that the fate of children such as Peter should not simply be accepted. Companies need to be held accountable for human rights conditions in their supply chains. 

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