SP: Outlaw import of products of child labour

5 December 2007

SP: Outlaw import of products of child labour

Legislation is needed to make it compulsory for companies to work towards ensuring that children are not employed in the manufacture of their products, argued SP Member of Parliament Sharon Gesthuizen, party spokeswoman on economic affairs, during this week's parliamentary question time.

Sharon GesthuizenGesthuizen asked Secretary of State for Economic Affairs Frank Heemskerk if he was prepared to take action against Dutch enterprises involved in cases of child labour, or in other abuses of fundamental labour rights. “The Secretary of State says that Dutch firms do not willingly involve themselves in the use of child labour," Gesthuizen said, "but only last Saturday pictures appeared of young children doing extremely heavy work in Indian quarries, and for Dutch importers"

The SP believes that it would be a step in the right direction if legislation were introduced obliging companies to show where their products originate and how they are made. Heemskerk has to date appeared more in favour of a voluntary system, appealing to firms' sense of social responsibility. But, as Gesthuizen pointed out, "we've been trying this for years, and the results are too meagre for us to be able to talk of a successful policy. If the Secretary of State really wants things to change then he will have to take responsibility himself. What's more, companies themselves find clear rules helpful. Without proper regulations, enterprises which do their best to ensure ethical production methods and ethical products are at a disadvantage compared to those who trade with no conscience about such matters."

What provoked the SP's questions was the issuing of an arrest warrant against eight Dutch activists from the Clean Clothes Campaign and the Rural India Working Group. The eight were accused of defamation by an Indian clothing manufacturer after publishing a report denouncing alleged abuses by the firm. The report catalogued maltreatment suffered by workers in the company's factory.

“The Netherlands must inform India that this is not a good way to proceed. It is unacceptable that organisations standing up for the rights of workers who are mistreated are brought to trial every time they criticise a firm, in what is a clear attempt to gag them."

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