For more than 10 years, Lafarge­Hol­cim and its sup­pli­ers ben­e­fit­ted from child labour among arti­sanal min­ers who sup­plied raw mate­ri­als (specif­i­cal­ly poz­zolana, a vol­canic rock) to the com­pa­ny in Ugan­da. Fol­low­ing a pub­lic scan­dal, includ­ing the pub­li­ca­tion of an arti­cle in the news­pa­per­Le Monde in March 2016, Lafarge­Hol­cim stopped buy­ing with arti­sanal min­ers and decid­ed to work only with mech­a­nised mines.

Bread for All (BFA) and its part­ner organ­i­sa­tion in Ugan­da, Twer­wane­ho Lis­ten­ers’ Club (TLC), car­ried out an inves­ti­ga­tion fol­low­ing this scan­dal. To assess the sit­u­a­tion, we inter­viewed 54 infor­mants over a peri­od of six months. Our inves­ti­ga­tion found that:

  1. Until Sep­tem­ber 2016, accord­ing to sev­er­al esti­mates, approx­i­mate­ly 150 chil­dren worked in the quar­ries that were sup­ply­ing poz­zolana to Hima Cement Lim­it­ed, the sub­sidiary of Lafarge­Hol­cim in Ugan­da. Hima Cement start­ed buy­ing poz­zolana from arti­sanal min­ers in 1992, and child labour in the quar­ries had been con­firmed since the ear­ly 2000s. We met 20 work­ing chil­dren between the ages of 12 and 17 dur­ing our inter­views. Many chil­dren who worked at the mines dropped out of school and did not go on to sec­ondary school. Work­ing in poz­zolana quar­ries is haz­ardous: most chil­dren inter­viewed report­ed hav­ing expe­ri­enced injuries(leg, hand, foot). They also report­ed that work­ing in quar­ries has a neg­a­tive impact on their health and phys­i­cal devel­op­ment. This type of work is clas­si­fied by the Inter­na­tion­al Labour Orga­ni­za­tion (ILO) as “haz­ardous child labour.”
  2. In Sep­tem­ber 2016, the com­pa­ny decid­ed to source only 10% of its mate­r­i­al from arti­sanal min­ers and 90% from mech­a­nised mines. In Jan­u­ary 2017, Hima Cement announced it would com­plete­ly stop buy­ing from arti­sanal min­ers and it denied hav­ing had child labour in its sup­ply chain. With this move, Lafarge­Hol­cim mere­ly reduces its rep­u­ta­tion­al risks with­out imple­ment­ing mea­sures to guar­an­tee a decent future for chil­dren who were work­ing in the quarries.
  3. Since Hima Cement stopped buy­ing raw mate­ri­als from arti­sanal min­ers, most of the chil­dren, who dropped out of school, lost their sources of income. The increased unem­ploy­ment led to high­er theft in the com­mu­ni­ties and also led to more school drop outs (as some par­ents who entire­ly depend­ed on quar­ry­ing can­not afford school fees).

In this respect, Lafarge­Hol­cim does not meet the require­ments of the UN Guid­ing Prin­ci­ples on Busi­ness and Human Rights (UNG­Ps), accord­ing to which com­pa­nies should use their lever­age on their sup­pli­ers to pro­vide reme­di­a­tion in the case of neg­a­tive human rights impacts.

  • Lafarge­Hol­cim should work with its sup­pli­ers to imple­ment pro­grammes that enable for­mer child labour­ers to return to school or receive voca­tion­al train­ing in order to gen­er­ate anoth­er source of income. After more than 10 years of ben­e­fit­ting from child labor in its sup­ply chain, a com­pa­ny bears a huge respon­si­bil­i­ty. It seems that firms too often seek sim­ply to reduce rep­u­ta­tion­al risks for them­selves while ignor­ing the need to pro­vide reme­di­a­tion for vic­tims of human rights violations.
  • -  Child labour is a com­plex issue but Swiss firms have to respect the rights of chil­dren in their sup­ply chain. Dia­logue and vol­un­tary Cor­po­rate Social Respon­si­bil­i­ty mea­sures, as pro­mot­ed by the Swiss Fed­er­al Coun­cil in its Jan­u­ary 2017 report on child labor, are not enough to get firms to fight child labour effec­tive­ly. The Lafarge­Hol­cim case rep­re­sents only the tip of the ice­berg: oth­er Swiss firms, such as Glen­core or Nestlé, face the same challenges.

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