World Day Against Child Labor gives us all an opportunity to reflect on the gravity and persistent challenge of child labor and what we are doing to address the issue globally. The International Labor Organization (ILO) estimates that 152 million children (age 5 to 17) around the world are in child labor, of whom 73 million perform hazardous work because of its nature or the circumstances in which it is carried out. 

This year, the ILO is focusing on health and safety related to child labor. According to the ILO, young workers sustain up to 40% more occupational injuries than do adult workers. The risks of hazardous work on children’s health and development is a timely reminder that children belong in education, not in the workplace.

At The Coca-Cola Company, we continue our efforts to ensure that persons under the age of 18 are not employed within any of our own operations. Our Human Rights Policy and Supplier Guiding Principles strictly prohibit the use of child labor, and independent audits validate adherence to these expectations. Each year, we complete approximately 2,500 independent audits within our system and supply chain.

Since 2013, we have been working on a due-diligence process through third-party organizations to look at 28 of our largest sugar sourcing countries to examine the realities of forced labor, child labor and land rights issues in The Coca-Cola Company supply chain. To date, 15 sugar studies have been published and are available on our website. While the reports, to date, have not shown systemic child labor, they have revealed isolated incidents reflecting that the socio-economic realities in many countries are such that there is a constant risk of children entering into work. By partnering with our sugar sourcing mills, we aim to ensure that their supply chains are aware of the risks and prohibition of child labor and to support their efforts in surrounding communities to create alternatives for children.

The Sustainable Development Goal 8.7 has a focus on ending all forms of child and forced labor by 2025. Child labor, especially in its most hazardous forms, is abhorrent to many of us. But in looking to solve this challenge, we must recognize that no one person, business or organization can do so on its own.

Collaboration is key, and that is one of the reasons why we are members of the Child Labor Platform (CLP). The CLP provides a vehicle whereby companies, employees and their representatives, governments and others can come together, explore good practice and initiate initiatives to address child labor. Most recently, the CLP supported the development of a new legal database containing the list of all tasks and occupations that are prohibited to children under 18 by the legislation of 149 ILO member States.

Unfortunately, this will not be the last year we will observe a World Day Against Child Labor but, by coming together, as this day gives us the chance to do, the goal of elimination by 2025 is possible.

Brent Wilton is director of Global Workplace Rights at The Coca-Cola Company.