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Germany: Respect Child Rights in Global Supply Chains

Call for an Effective Human Rights Due Diligence Law

Child labor in an informal gold mine in Ghana, where health risks are significant. © UNICEF/UNI190047/Quarmyne

(Berlin) – A German law that would require companies to exercise due diligence throughout their supply chains could greatly benefit children’s rights, Human Rights Watch, Kindernothilfe, Plan International Germany, Save the Children, Terre des hommes, UNICEF Germany, and World Vision said today in a joint briefing paper. The organizations called upon the government to introduce a robust supply chains law during this legislative period.

The organizations set out how around the world boys and girls experience a wide range of rights abuses in global supply chains, including child labor as well as environmental harm, lack of health and safety measures, and labor rights violations against their parents. Protecting the rights of all workers and communities, including adults, in supply chains is critical to protecting the rights of children.

“From pesticide poisoning in Brazil to child exploitation in Tanzania’s gold mines, children’s rights are violated at the bottom of global supply chains,” said Maike Röttger, national director of Plan International Germany. “Companies should be required to ensure that the rights of boys and girls are respected along the entire supply chain as well, from raw material through manufacturing and retail.”

The organizations emphasized that companies have a special responsibility to identify, address, and remedy children’s rights’ risks in supply chains. A German government survey assessing implementation of the National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights illustrates how voluntary company measures are insufficient. Over 80 percent of German businesses are not fulfilling their due diligence responsibilities, the survey found. The coalition agreement set out by the governing parties foresees the adoption of a supply chains law in response to companies’ failure to implement the National Action Plan sufficiently on a voluntary basis.

In July 2020, the minister of labor and social affairs, Hubertus Heil, and the minister of economic development cooperation, Gerd Müller, announced that they were putting forth a law to make the conduct of human rights due diligence throughout global supply chains mandatory. However, their initiative is faced with significant opposition. Negotiations are stalled and an agreement is yet to be reached.

“Voluntary company measures have failed,” said Juliane Kippenberg, child rights associate director at Human Rights Watch. “The German government should not wait any longer to make respect for human rights a legal requirement for companies. Respect for children’s rights needs to be part of any company’s human rights due diligence.”

For a supply chains law to be effective, it should include liabilities for companies, ensure that abuse victims – including children – have access to remedies, and cover businesses with 250 or more employees and those from particularly risky sectors, the groups said.

The groups called upon the German government to fulfil its national and international duty to protect human rights and child rights, and to lead by example. Several well-known companies in Germany explicitly support a law requiring human rights and environmental due diligence along the whole supply chain.

“Many companies support effective human rights due diligence legislation to ensure that human rights and child rights are protected in their supply chains,” said Sebastian Sedlmayr, head of advocacy and program at UNICEF Germany. “Such a law would create legal certainty and would no longer disadvantage champions of sustainability and responsible business conduct. ”

Additional Information on the Joint NGO Briefing Paper

The briefing paper includes five case studies on child rights violations in global supply chains connected to the German market:

  • In Brazil, children have suffered acute poisoning when pesticides sprayed on large plantations have drifted into classrooms and residential areas. About half of the pesticides are supplied by foreign companies, including German businesses.
  • In Bangladesh’s garment factories, about 30 percent of workers say their wages are insufficient to pay for educational and health services for their children. Several German clothing brands produce in Bangladesh.
  • Bauxite mining companies in Guinea have expropriated farmlands without adequate compensation, making it harder for many families to feed their children. The mining has also caused water scarcity in nearby communities. German car companies source some of their bauxite from Guinea.
  • About 40 percent of the cocoa produced worldwide comes from Côte d'Ivoire’s cocoa plantations, where hazardous child labor – including the handling of chemicals by children – is common.
  • Children have died and been injured during their work in small gold mines in Ghana, the Philippines, and other countries. Yet, gold refineries supplying the global gold market have sometimes sourced the mineral without adequate human rights due diligence measures in place.

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