Food and Beverage
This section focuses on the issues that are most likely to pose risks of child rights infringements for F&B industry. This is not an exhaustive list but only a selection of the key risks. For an overview of risks and recommended remedies, please refer to documents listed under tools and guidance.
Worldwide, 60% of child labourers (aged 5-17) work in agriculture, including farming, fishing, livestock and forestry, totalling more than 98 million children. The majority of these children are unpaid, working with family members. Poverty is the main reason for child labour in the agricultural sector. In addition, a lack of labourers and low wages is a further reason for high numbers of children working in agriculture. When children cannot go to school, because the school is either too far or costs money, children are also more likely to end up in child labour.
While most F&B companies have strict Codes of Conduct when it comes to child labour, the risk of child labour in agriculture supply chains still exists, because root causes, including poverty and limited access to education, need to be tackled. Companies can use the ILO-IOE Child Labour Guidance Tool for Business for further guidance to tackle and remedy child labour.
The agriculture industry has been identified by the ILO as one of the most dangerous sectors in terms of occupational health and safety, irrespective of the age of the workers. The physical strain and repetitive movements associated with many agricultural tasks can deform bones and injure ligaments and muscles of young workers, increasing the risk of life-long disabilities. UNICEF’s study Engaging with Girls’ Clubs to Improve Adolescent Nutrition in 15 Tea Gardens of Dibrugarh District found that adolescent female workers were a highly vulnerable part of the tea plantation workforce. In the tea industry, workers frequently report musculoskeletal injuries from repetitive movements, poisoning from pesticide use or exposure, and falls, sprains and fractures from clearing, uprooting and pruning.
Decent working conditions
Women constitute approximately 40 percent of the food and beverage workforce, with the proportion of women increasing notably in the production of fish, vegetable and fruit processing. The high representation of women in the F&B industry presents a number of unique challenges that impact parents and caregivers in particular:
- Minimum wages: A study conducted by UNICEF on Palm Oil and Children in Indonesia found that minimum wages were often insufficient to meet the living expenses of workers in the sector, particularly for workers with children. Parental income impacts children’s health, education, development and wellbeing. Parents earning below the cost of living are less likely to be able to provide their children with adequate nutrition, decent housing and other necessities.
- Maternity protections and breastfeeding: Due to the seasonal nature of the F&B industry, many workers are employed on temporary or casual contracts. UNICEF’s study on Palm Oil and Children in Indonesia found that the temporary status of female causal workers in the industry prevented many workers from accessing maternity leave. Without adequate maternity leave, female workers are unable to breastfeed up to six months, as recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO). Infants who are not breastfed exclusively until six months are 14 time more likely to die in the early months of life than those that are exclusively breastfed.
- Child care: Parents and caregivers employed in the F&B industry often lack access to adequate child care, particularly if they are employed at the farm or food processing stages of the value chain. A lack of affordable, good quality childcare can mean that children are deprived of early childhood education, may be likely to accompany parents to work, where their health and safety could be at danger, or may be left unattended at home and at risk of neglect.
Food nutrition and labelling
Unhealthy diets that are high in saturated fat, trans-fatty acids, sugars and salt are associated with conditions such as obesity. The WHO approximately 52 million children under the age of five are overweight or obese. Overweight and obese children are more likely to develop noncommunicable diseases such as diabetes and cardiovascular diseases at a younger age. Research conducted by UNICEF and DLA Piper on Advertising & Marketing to Children found that many food and beverage products lacked adequate nutritional information, limiting children, parents and caregivers from making informed or healthy food choices.
Case Study: Tetra Pak promotes health and nutrition education among young children
Tetra Pak, a Swedish food processing and packaging company, supports governments’ implementation of school milk programs worldwide, promoting children’s right to nutrition, health and education. School feeding programmes help grow the demand for locally produced and processed quality milk, in parallel with improving the health and learning capacities of school children. During 2014, more than 65 million children worldwide - whereof almost 44 million living in developing countries - were reached by milk or other nutritious drinks in Tetra Pak packages.
Food and product safety
Products, regardless of their intended end user, may injure children or damage their health if appropriate safety standards and regulations do not exist or are not enforced. The use of children in product research and testing may lead to harming children if adequate ethical guidelines are not in place.
Marketing and advertising
Children are highly vulnerable to marketing and advertising campaigns promoting products with a high content of fat, sugar and salt. Evidence from the WHO indicates that television advertising influences children’s food preferences, purchase requests and consumption patterns. Advertising that promotes an unhealthy diet could increase the risk of overweight and obesity among children. Whilst there are widespread restrictions around the marketing and advertising of tobacco and alcohol products to children, food and non-alcoholic drinks lack comparable regulation. Research by UNICEF and DLA Piper on Advertising & Marketing to Children found that while some countries had introduced new guidelines for television and print advertising, online advertising remained largely unregulated.
Community and Environment
Environmental degradation and pollution
The food and beverage industry is highly land intensive. Unregulated agricultural practices, such as forest burning and water leaching can have serious impacts on local communities. Due to their underdeveloped immune system, children are particularly vulnerable to long term adverse health impacts.
- Air quality: Burning forests is a common, albeit illegal, means of clearing land and forests for agricultural use. Air quality is severely compromised by toxic smoke during burning times. The toxic smoke can spread to a very large area causing the air quality to exceed hazardous thresholds. Children are highly vulnerable to this toxic smoke and hazardous air quality due to their underdeveloped immune system. Research conducted by the WHO has linked hazardous air quality to respiratory diseases, mortality of young children, asthma, lung damage, low birth weight, impaired cognitively development and miscarriage among women.
- Water, sanitation and hygiene: UNICEF’s study on Palm Oil and Children in Indonesia found that plantations have a considerable impact on water quality due to leaching of pesticides and agrochemicals, mill affluent discharge and hydrocarbon contamination in rivers. Communities affected by water pollution lose access to important sources of drinking water. Children exposed to inadequate water quality and inadequate sanitation can result in poor health, such as diarrhoea, which in turn can negatively impact school attendance.
Access to basic services (health, education, other basic services)
A broad range of children’s rights risks, including child labour and hazardous work for young workers are often exacerbated when their families lack access to basic services, such as education and healthcare. Impoverished households may resort to sending their children out to work when they are unable to pay for or access these basic amenities.
- Healthcare: Workers employed in remote fields sourcing tea, palm oil or cocoa may be far away from good quality healthcare centres. Without access to medical care, parents and caregivers may not be able to seek timely medical support during pregnancy or access life-saving immunisations or medical treatment for their children.
- Education: Children growing up in rural areas may lack access to good quality schools. While palm oil, tea and cocoa plantations are increasingly providing primary education and transportation to secondary schools, research conducted by UNICEF has found that the quality education is often poor with parents reporting that they cover the indirect costs of education through school feels or transportation costs.
Case Study: School scholarships support access to education among the children of palm oil workers
A company sourcing palm oil from North Sumatera in Indonesia offers scholarships for children who score 85% or higher at the end of each semester, starting from elementary school level. Even though education is free at that level, parents can use the scholarship money to buy school uniforms and to cover any other school-related expenses.
The number of scholarships is unlimited. Even if all children were to score 85% or higher, all of them would benefit from the support. Children from this plantation can also attend the company’s university at a 50% discount. The intervention has shown a number of positive effects. The average marriage age among children from this palm oil plantation is above 18 years, which means most girls would not marry before having finished high school.