Members of European Parliament raise pertinent questions about tackling child labour in global footwear industry

Members of European Parliament Ria Oomen-Ruijten (Christan Democrat, EEP) and Thijs Berman (Social Democrat, S&D) together raised a number of questions to the High Representative for Foreign Affairs as well as the European Commission about child labour in the leather footwear industry. Triggering these questions is the report ‘Where the Shoe Pinches’ of research organization SOMO made at the request of Stop child Labour.

Another reason for Oomen and Berman to prompt the High Representative and the European Commission for action, was the outcome of a survey of the Stop Child Labour campaign itself, showing that many shoe companies did not respond at all to questions about how they tackled child labour, or had nothing or little to say about it.

Active ‘shoe diplomacy’

Oomen and Berman want to know if the High Representative Catherine Ashton is ‘’willing to raise this CSR and human rights issue in the relations with countries that are producing footwear for the European market – in particular China, India, Vietnam and Brazil’’. Furthermore they would like her ‘’to look for possibilities to involve the governments of these countries in working on solutions’’. The Members of Parliament also request Ashton to initiate additional research into (child) labour and other human rights issues in the worldwide footwear industry and to ‘’combine this research with recommendations how all relevant stakeholders can work on solutions’’.

Supply chain transparancy and concrete plan of action

The above questions are also raised with the European Commission, but the Commission is requested to take additional concrete steps as well.

The Members of parliament would like ‘’the Commission to engage with the European footwear industry to achieve supply chain transparency and use its convening power to work on a concrete plan of action with the industry to tackle labour and other human rights violations in the full supply chain’’.

EU-India free trade agreement

Oomen and Berman ask Ashton to ‘’raise this issue in the context of the EU-India free trade negotiations, including a dispute settlement mechanism and involvement of civil society’. The latter is contentious issue between India and the EU. The EU, including the European Parliament, wants such a dispute mechanism as well as civil society involvement on labour and human rights issues. But India does not.

CSR strategy

Oomen and Berman, ‘’in view of the EU Strategy 2011-2013 on Corporate Social Responsibility’’, finally ask the Commission: ‘’what can and will the Commission in addition do to combat child labour and human rights violations in the footwear industry supplying to EU-based companies?"

It is expected that the answers to these questions by the High Representative and the European Commission will take around six weeks.