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Jan 14, 2016

Sugar Industry Stakeholders Meet on Child Labour Issue

Today stakeholders in the fight against child labour in sugar production met for its first ever concerted meeting. It included representatives from Fairtrade International, G.O.B. and CLAC, the Latin-American and Caribbean Network of Small Producers and Workers in Fairtrade. Fairtrade is the organization which pays the B.S.C.F.A. millions each year for its premium product and the cane farmer association has already come under scrutiny for child labour in Belize’s cane fields. News Five’s Mike Rudon dropped in on the stakeholders meeting at Inspiration Center in Belize City and has the story.

 

Mike Rudon, Reporting

The participants in today’s session, local, regional and international, hope to coordinate and develop a strategy which will address the very pervasive issue of child labour.

 

Anita Sheth, Fairtrade International

“Child labour is pretty much everywhere including in developed countries. Fairtrade International has labour standards, minimum requirements to ensure that Fairtrade commodities are grown and processed according to national law and relevant international conventions. One convention that is relevant here is the child labour conventions of the ILO. So producers need to be compliant, and child labour is a problem throughout the world, not only in Belize, but in other sugar cane production, with other commodities, and Fairtrade goes where we identify the problems.”

 

The B.S.C.F.A.’s C.E.O., Oscar Alonzo, told us that it is a great concern and one that they need to address if Belize’s sugar industry is to remain viable and competitive in the international market. The B.S.C.F.A. is Fairtrade certified, but in annual audits has been cited by that body for non-compliance in the area of child labour.

 

Oscar Alonzo

Oscar Alonzo, Chief Executive Officer, BSCFA

“We had corrected it using our own internal controls and systems, but we felt we had to go beyond that and engage the entire community to enable that we tackle the issue of eliminating child labour. Also we want to see how our efforts can assist the Government of Belize because this is a tripartite effort between government, industry and workers to see how in a collaborative manner we can resolve the issue of child labour.”

 

Anita Sheth

“What impresses us about Belizean sugar cane producers is that they went beyond what they had to do in correcting the problem. They understood very concretely that the sustainable solution of this problem is when the communities own the problem, when they themselves identify it and they discuss with youth and young people in those communities to understand what the reasons are why they are engaged, and together come up with solutions.”

 

Alonzo says that the B.S.C.F.A. has become proactive on the issue and they are already seeing the results. But along with results, they are also being faced with the reality of dire poverty.

 

Oscar Alonzo

“We have carried out awareness programs. We have engaged the youths in relation to this matter to see what needs to be done to deal with it. Our farmers this year have been rejecting application for work by minors, but it has created a situation that we need to deal with. Families have been coming out to us saying okay, our children need jobs and they cannot do it because of this situation with child labour. How are we going to maintain our families? How are we going to feed them? And this is why we’re meeting today because we need to put forward all the issues we had found based on our research and our consultation with the communities, and also engaging those who view this matter in a similar manner and see how we can pool our resources to see how joint action can be taken to alleviate this situation.”

 

Fairtrade International’s model calls for community involvement and voluntary best practices including the investment of premium funds into education. Still, in a country where over forty percent of the population lives below the poverty line, the issue of child labour is a daunting one to tackle.

 

Anita Sheth

Anita Sheth

“The question is really difficult. Fairtrade struggles with this day in and day out, ensuring that producers don’t redistribute the problem somewhere else. Our standards are very clear. Children removed from child labour cannot be replaced by newer children. We talked about sustained, prolonged protection of children impacted by child labour. On the other hand, our model encourages funds in terms of premiums to be invested in community development. Education is one of the areas in which producers can elect to spend that premium money to ensure that we address this problem. But governments ratify conventions. We need to collaborate with other interlocutors and stakeholders here to ensure that we pool our resources and skills and capacities to find sustainable solutions to these problems. But a child removed from school and put in a field is not a solution to poverty. It is to ensure inter-generational poverty in sugar-cane production.”

 

The thrust is the formulation of a G.O.B. National Action Plan which when implemented will show the world and primarily the markets, that sugar is being produced in a humane manner. Mike Rudon for News Five.

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