|ter gelegenheid van de aanbieding van 60.000 handtekeningen aan (toenmalig) minister Melkert van Sociale Zaken en Werkgelegenheid tijdens de Amsterdam Child Labour Conference in februari 1997.|
Dear chairman and other distinguished guests,
Today I have the privilege to speak on behalf of ten Dutch organizations from a very broad spectre of our society: the Federation of Dutch Trade Unions, the Dutch Teacher's Union, Unicef Netherlands as well as NGO's representing almost all denominations and social sectors of society. Some of them, like UNICEF and Children at Risk, have already worked on the issue of child labour for many years. Most of them have done so for at least the last three years. The ten of us are funding anti-child labour projects, doing research and advocacy work on the issue, working on fair and child-labour free trade and taking up the issue in international fora.
Last year we felt that the time had come to make a strong and joint appeal to the Dutch public, to our government and the European Union. We urge them to contribute whatever they can to the elimination of child labour and the right to primary education for every child.
Minister Melkert of Social Affairs signs petition against child labour (photographs: Henk Boon)
As organizations and individuals we share the conviction that child labour should be abolished. There can be no compromise on the internationally accepted right of children to be free from labour that interferes with good primary education. Or from labour that is
detrimental to a child's well-being. Not all the work children do is necessarily harmful. Work may even be a positive element in a child's development.
We are deeply convinced that child labour does not arise primarily because of poverty itself, but because of the exploitation of poverty. There are several countries and regions, like the state of Kerala in India, which are poor in terms of national income but where most children are going to school. However when poverty is exploited by the powerful because labour laws are hardly implemented and when the state does not give priority to good primary education for every child, child labour is bound to occur. Jobs are given to children because they are cheap and malleable, while employers make profit by not hiring adults for better wages.
The main instrument to fight child labour is free, quality, accessible and compulsory education for every child.
There has been much talk about sanctions and boycotts. We do feel that socially responsible trade can be of some help to eradicate child labour, but we are stressing the positive approach. Most of us are working intensively on fair trade and the promotion of trade
marks for consumer-products made without child labour and under decent labour conditions. There is now a well-functioning trade-mark for carpets without child labour which is supported by many groups in the EU and the USA: Rugmark-carpets from Nepal and India.
There are of course extreme forms of child labour that have to be eradicated immediately. Strengthening ILO Convention 29 against forced labour and a strong new convention against the most intolerable forms of child labour can be important instruments to reach that goal. Any new convention on extreme forms of child labour should however be in integral part of broader policies and time-bound programmes to abolish child labour totally in line with Convention 138 of the ILO and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
We are asking our government and the European Union to urge for strong monitoring mechanisms to back up a new convention on child labour. We feel that such a convention ànd the existing convention on forced labour are so essential to fundamental human rights, that they should have the same status as the convention on freedom of organization. That is: their ratification should be a pre-condition for states to be a member of the ILO. Thank you for your attention.