Right now there are 150 million children around the world laboring in almost every industry you can think of. This stark reality and the question, 'how do we know that the products we buy aren't made using child labor?' is why two early-education entrepreneurs from New Zealand created their own social enterprise on World Day Against Child Labour, 2015.
I was one of them, and a year on Child Labor Free (CLF) has developed a global certification system to independently analyse companies and their supply chains for the use of child labor across all product types. It is unique in that it provides commercial value to companies through a consumer mark. With 75% of consumers willing to change their shopping habits in response to the use of child labor, the mark allows shoppers to identify a brand's commitment to ethical sourcing and make their purchasing choices accordingly. We are working with brands in our native New Zealand and are now launching in the UK.
CLF collaborates with non-governmental organisations (NGOs), industry bodies, factories, governments and leading business advisors to support and develop initiatives providing sustainable alternatives to child labor. Additionally, CLF invests in projects working to prevent children entering labor; ensuring children, their families and the wider community are fully supported throughout the journey towards a child labor free world.
In 2015, CLF began to explore suitable community projects and, Michelle Pratt (CLF Founder/Director), Nik Webb-Shephard (Child Labor Free CEO) and I were connected with fellow
New Zealander, Phillipa Rea of Freeset. Freeset is a social enterprise, based in Kolkata's Sonagacchi district, which aims to free local women from the sex industry by providing them with the opportunity to learn new skills and earn a decent wage by creating fair trade, organic goods.
The Freeset factory also provides a social network for the women working in the factory and provides health, financial, counseling, housing and education support. The three of us visited Kolkata in March 2016, to conduct a site visit to further scope out potential projects. During this visit, we met with many of the women working in the factory. Hearing the stories of these women, who have left the sex industry to better support their children and families - and also to better care for themselves - you cannot help but feel pain for those who have never had a choice. It is in these moments you know you have to be a part of the change too.
Through our Child Labor Free Foundation, we are supporting Freeset, by providing development and operational support to an early childhood centre in its new Gateway Building. The centre will provide hundreds of children with access to free education and therefore reduce their risk of exposure to child labor in the long term. As Michelle and I both have experience in educational development, this project was designed so that we could provide expertise as well as funds associated with operating this centre including supporting the concept, renovating the building and providing much-needed equipment. Upon its completion, in February 2017, we hope that the centre will provide care and education services for up to 100 children at any one time.
The CLF Foundation is committed to a long-term relationship with Freeset and once the childcare centre is built, it will provide continued support and advice around the operation of the service. The long-term plan is for the project to be replicated across the globe, with the objective of engaging at risk families in education and childcare, which will decrease the chances of these children sliding into child labor themselves.
There is no simple solution to eliminating child labor. At CLF, we believe that combatting the issue of child labor is more than laws and rescue missions, it is creating a world where there is no need for children to work. Join us today on the journey to a child labor free world.
Support this great cause by buying your own limited edition graffiti art t-shirts (RRP £20.00) at https://www.childlaborfree.com/site/shop the proceeds of which will fund the development of the early learning centre in Kolkata.
Learn more about the work of Freeset at www.freesetglobal.com