“This is an extraordinary development and a critical step in the right direction,” said Anita Sheth, Fairtrade International’s Senior Advisor for Social Compliance and Development (informal sectors).
“Fairtrade has been hard at work for many years collaborating with government, NGOS, supply chain actors and smallholder farmer organizations, including communities, to ensure worst forms of child labour are eliminated in Belize and specifically in the country’s northern regions where sugar cane largely grows.”
Memorandum of Understanding
At the strategy roll-out earlier this summer, Oscar Requena, Belize’s Minister of Rural Transformation, Community Development, Labour and Local Government, and Andy Westby, Chairperson of the Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association (BSCFA), a long-standing Fairtrade partner, signed a Memorandum of Understanding, agreeing to collaborate on efforts to fight child labour and formalizing their partnership “to make Belize a child labour-free zone.”
According to the Government of Belize, the new policy makes several new commitments including “removing all ambiguities in the Labour Act as to what constitutes child labour, harmonizing the definition of a child across legislations, establishing clear inter-agency communication and data sharing protocols in child labour cases, and fostering within the private sector the development of socially responsible code of ethics that protects children from sexual abuse and exploitation.”
In addition, the new Child Labour Policy and Strategy makes several references to the work Fairtrade and its producer organizations have done in striving towards the elimination of child labour in northern Belize.
“The fact that the government of Belize signed a Memorandum of Understanding with BSCFA is indicative of the important role Fairtrade producer organizations have played in working to eliminate child labour in the sugar cane sector in Belize,” Sheth said.
Child labour remains an ongoing scourge of the global labour market. The number of children in child labour worldwide has risen to 160 million, an increase of 8.4 million children in the past four years, according to ILO (International Labour Organisation).
Fairtrade also pointed out that the continuing COVID pandemic has eaten away any gains made in the fight against child labour as it has brought many farmers and agricultural workers around the world closer to poverty.
It claimed an additional 9 million children globally are at risk of being pushed into child labour by the end of 2022 because of the pandemic. Job and income losses, school closures, and lack of adequate social protection and of prioritizing child rights has meant that children already working, especially in rural agriculture, do so under ever worsening conditions.
“This last principle of eliciting and including impacted children’s and young people’s inputs into remediation actions is so important because this could make all the difference in ensuring the corrective measures taken to withdraw child labourers actually work,” Sheth added.