Child labour: LafargeHolcim abandons the victims

08.05.2018

Bern/Lucerne, 8 May 2018. Two years after the child labour scandal in Uganda was discovered, LafargeHolcim and its suppliers have done nothing to help the victims. Bread for all and the Catholic Lenten Fund call on the cement group at today's general meeting in Dübendorf to finally assume its responsibility. The case also shows that Switzerland must regulate the human rights due diligence of companies by law.

A year ago, a study of Bread for All and its partner organisation TLC revealed the extent of grievances in the LafargeHolcim supply chain in Uganda that was previously uncovered by «Le Monde»: for more than ten years, Hima Cement, a subsidiary of the cement group, had benefited from the work of around 150 children and young people. They were cheap labour in the mining of Pozzolan, an additive for cement production. Only when the scandal became public did LafargeHolcim react. Since January 2017, the Franco-Swiss company has been buying the raw material from mechanized quarries that employ adults only.

As a result, many small-scale miners lost their jobs and earnings from one day to the other. For the dangerous job in the quarries, children and young people had not only neglected school but also endangered their health. However, LafargeHolcim and its suppliers continue to dodge their responsibilities, even though they are requested to provide remediation according to the UN Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights (UNGP). The company claims that an external investigation found no evidence of child labour in Hima Cement’s supply chain but refuses to make the report public.

In new video statements, several children now repeat their testimonies that they used to work for Hima Cement suppliers. Moreover, the affected children say that LafargeHolcim did nothing to help them, despite the Catholic Lenten Fund’s and Bread for all’s demands a year ago. The cement company has indeed launched the construction of some toilets in a school and programs to provide health advice and increase the income of communities. However, the former child laborers are still without help or career prospects.

This is why Bread for all and the Catholic Lenten Fund take the opportunity of today’s General Assembly to remind LafargeHolcim to acknowledge its responsibility for child labour. Moreover, they will renew their demands to support former child labourers in making up for missing school years and provide vocational training for them. The LafargeHolcim case highlights the fact that the human rights due diligence of corporations must be regulated by law, as provided for in the Swiss Responsible Business Initiative. After all, voluntary measures or public pressure are obviously not enough to persuade corporations to assume their responsibilities.

Further information, video statements, and photos:

Yvan Maillard Ardenti, Bread for All, +41 79 489 38 24; maillard@bfa-ppp.ch

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