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Labour conditions in ACP countries: Ongoing projects 0

From large farms to small plots, working conditions, even for children, are often harsh and dangerous – accidents, health problems related to the misuse of pesticides, environmental pollution. Improvements will require increased ratification of International Labour Organization conventions, stricter legal frameworks, and implementation of policies and programmes to ensure adequate protection for agricultural workers.

Following the miners’ strikes in South Africa, farm workers in the country have been demonstrating since early November 2012 to demand wage increases. Most of these workers earn ZAR69 to 75 (€6 to €6.4) a day, which is close to the lowest pay in the country. The working and housing conditions are also often deplorable and were denounced by Human Rights Watch (HRW) in its August 2011 report on the situation on wealthy fruit farms and vineyards in the Western Cape region. HRW singled out the lack of decent housing, exposure to pesticides without proper safety equipment, the absence of access to toilets or drinking water at working sites and the efforts of the employers to deter farm workers from forming unions. In developing countries low pay and harsh working conditions are often the common fate of farm workers and smallholders.

Poverty and child labour

This precarious situation encourages the use of child labour in the fields and forces large numbers of people out of rural areas and into cities. According to the International Labour Office, the agricultural sector alone accounts for around 70% of child labour worldwide. “Some agricultural activities – mixing and applying pesticides, using certain types of machinery – are so dangerous that children should be clearly prohibited from engaging in them,” indicates Parviz Koohafkan, Director of FAO’s Rural Development Division. However, not all of the work that children do is harmful to their development. “When it comes to subsistence and family agriculture, children’s participation in family farm activities helps them learn valuable skills, build self-esteem and contribute to the generation of household income, which has a positive impact on their own livelihoods,” says Koohafkan.

At the international level, several conventions drawn up by the International Labour Organization (ILO) have been adopted to combat child labour, including the Minimum Age Convention No. 138 (1973) and the Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention No. 182 (1999). The first specifies that light work, which does not prejudice attendance at school, may be tolerated from the age of 12, while work that is not classified as dangerous may be carried out by youths of at least 15 years old. The second convention aims to eliminate the worst forms of child labour, i.e. slavery or comparable practices, such as the sale and trafficking of children, debt bondage and serfdom, forced or compulsory labour, and work which, by its nature or the circumstances in which it is carried out, is likely to harm the health, safety or morals of children. Convention No. 182 was ratified by 176 countries in April 2012. Among ACP countries, only Eritrea, the Marshall Islands, Somalia and Vanuatu have not yet signed.

The child labour situation varies, however, in different ACP regions. In Caribbean countries, child labour is used to different extents but it is believed that the worst forms are not widespread. A 2005 study by the Bureau of Statistics of Guyana on child labour revealed that children working on farms were subject to most of the common hazards including, “heavy workloads, inappropriate use of agrochemicals and cutting tools, as well as other physical hazards.” Agricultural child labour in the Caribbean is usually carried out on family farms or, but less commonly, as part of a community activity. In Amerindian villages in Guyana, for instance, children naturally take part in the agricultural, fishing and hunting activities of their community.

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Picture: Technicians with protective equipment for pesticide use (Madagascar) © FAO/Y Chiba

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Spore is the bi-monthly magazine of the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA). CTA operates under the Cotonou Agreement between the countries of the Africa, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) group and the European Union.

Spore is actually produced by an international consortium lead by VITA S.p.A., the Afronline’s publisher.

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