Child labour is a vast societal issue in Pakistan, with over 12.5 million children estimated to be involved in labour. Child labour and other human rights violations in supply chains are a continuous challenge for companies operating in Pakistan, where Stora Enso previously had 35% minority holding in Bulleh Shah Packaging (the divestment of Bulleh Shah Packaging was completed in 2017). Bulleh Shah Packaging (BSP) has taken action to tackle these issues, for example through systematically training their suppliers, capacity building, awareness raising and rigorous supply chain auditing. Stora Enso and BSP have also has also established schools and a mobile medical clinic. By partnering with ILO, Stora Enso and BSP have been able to reach out to the communities at the end of their supply chains, and to demonstrate how businesses can use their leverage to bring about positive change.
What have ILO and Stora Enso achieved together in the past two years?
Ingrid Christensen (IC): First of all, ILO has thoroughly mapped BSP's supply chains in consultation with the company by using the rapid assessment framework, which is commonly used by the United Nations. Companies tend to have good knowledge of their direct business partners and can influence them, but may not be familiar with the lower tiers of their supply chains. By mapping out entire supply chains we can better identify the potential challenges and how business can address them.
Child labour in Pakistan generally occurs due to issues such as poverty, poor access to education, low-quality education, and cultural issues. The framework has helped us to better understand the drivers behind these issues, and whether or not companies can help to address them.
We have worked to raise awareness among BSP employees and facilitated discussions among company management on these issues. To mitigate the decent work deficits in the lower tiers of BSP's supply chains, we have organised eleven community events since 2016 to raise awareness of child labour, the importance of education and skills training, and topics such as birth registration and decent working conditions. Participants were made aware of the issue of child labour, their role in the value chain and how they can assist in preventing child labour. Current labour laws were also discussed along with what kind of free education facilities the government provides. We have also reached out to people who work informally in BSP's supply chains and have brought over 320 people to these sessions to date. This work drives real change, but it also requires local government intervention. Raising awareness and discussing solutions together with suppliers, workers and parents in the communities is also very important.
What has been the outcome of these community events? What challenges have you encountered?
IC: Some of the locations are difficult to reach due to remoteness or security concerns, but once we reach a community, we try to have meaningful discussions about why child labour is not good and why young workers need specific safeguards. Is it okay for 17-year-olds to work if they don't do hazardous work? What about younger people? What actually is hazardous work? What are the disadvantages of working and benefits of going to school? This work also supports the broader Punjab government programme on child labour.
However the reception has been mixed. In some cases, parents say 'what you tell us is good in principle, but there is no proper school here so it's better for my child to earn some money'. Youth unemployment is high in Pakistan and many parents think it's better for their children to work in agriculture where there is always work. There are also long traditions of children helping their parents in the fields during the harvesting season, and some families do not want to send their girls to school due to their conservative values.
What can be done if there is resistance to taking children away from work?
IC: To solve the issue of child labour, it's not enough to ask parents to take their children out of work. We need to ensure that parents have access to decent work, so that they can afford and allow their children to go to school. Parents also need to see that education provides their children with alternative means of income, so access to vocational schools is important.
One of the key areas in ILO's decent work country programme for Pakistan is to create decent work in the rural community in compliance with international labour standards and to move people from informal work to formal employment. Our projects and interventions that aim to do this are typically in cooperation with our local constituents: the government, employers and worker organisations. In recent years, we have also started to work with companies to have an even wider reach in society.
Combatting child labour or other human and labour rights issues in a country such as Pakistan is a long journey and needs to be ongoing. Decent work is a moving target, and its standards evolve as societies develop. It requires collaboration between all societal stakeholders, including businesses.
What are the benefits and challenges of working with companies for ILO?
IC: Working with companies gives ILO new tools and leverage to reach out to society and allows us to better understand the realities facing communities.
On the other hand, companies have their business to run. ILO is not a consultant and we can't provide companies with ready-made solutions or child labour-free certificates. We assess our potential partners carefully as we want to ensure that the partnership contributes to addressing national priorities, that there is scope for learning and possible replication, and that the risk of conflict of interest is minimised. Sometimes building trust and understanding takes time.
Overall, I think that Public-Private partnerships will be increasingly used in future but still after careful assessment. In Pakistan, we want to share the experiences from the Stora Enso partnership as we believe it can serve as a model or inspiration for other companies. To scale up the work and the lessons learned from this partnership, we welcome more companies to join the journey to address the challenges that exist in supply chains in Pakistan. We recently had a successful roundtable meeting with companies on these issues, so the future looks promising. This will also provide us with greater leverage with the government and other constituents if more companies echo the same message – that these issues need to be solved.