Child Labour: After Premium Times’ investigation, FrieslandCampina appoints UK firm for social audit

Tijani and Yusufa in their hovel on the cattle farm. Like other children, they spend nights there with cows
Tijani and Yusufa in their hovel on the cattle farm. Like other children, they spend nights there with cows

Multinational dairy company, FrieslandCampina, says it has engaged an international firm, Partner Africa, to conduct an audit of its raw milk sourcing in Nigeria following an investigation by PREMIUM TIMES revealing child labour in its supply chain.

The company said it is committed to “preventing and eliminating” child labour in its supply chain based on relevant local and international laws and conventions.

The PREMIUM TIMES’ investigation exposed how child labour routinely boosts the company’s production and perhaps profits in Nigeria as the Dutch multinational fails to implement necessary due diligence that would have helped check the adverse human rights issue in its Dairy Development Programme. It is through the programme that it sources raw milk for the production of products like Three Crown and Peak Milk, among others, in Nigeria.

The children, like Yusufa Isah, six, Tijani Abubakar, 13 and Yunusa Sanusi, 10, usually sleep in hovels on isolated farms, bare of any infrastructure and water and sanitation facility. At 5 a.m. each day, they begin the first task of extracting milk from cows. By 11 a.m., they herd the animals to graze in the bushes and urban areas, trekking several kilometres in keeping with an outdated animal husbandry method still common in sub-Saharan Africa.

The boys return at dusk. Their ages notwithstanding, they sleep on the isolated farm apparently to ensure the security of the animals in a country where farmers and herders frequently clash over land rights and resources.

“Independent investigation”

However, the company, in an official statement by its corporate affairs director, Ore Famurewa, Wednesday evening, vowed commitment to addressing child labour incidence in its supply chain and disclosed the engagement of Partner Africa for an investigation of the Dairy Development Programme based in Oyo State, Nigeria’s southwest.

“An international non-profit organization, Partner Africa, has been engaged to
conduct an independent investigation of our Dairy Development sites,” disclosed Ms Famurewa. “FrieslandCampina WAMCO will share the results of this investigation at its completion.”

Partner Africa is a UK-registered social enterprise working with downstream companies on ethical and socially responsible business. According to the information on its website, it carries out social audits and supply chain solutions for several global brands, including Coca Cola and Unilever. It mainly works in Africa and the Near East, where many corporations source raw materials from primary producers.

A mail sent to the firm Wednesday evening requesting confirmation of its engagement by FrieslandCampina was not replied before the filing of this report on Thursday.

Further, in the Dutch company’s statement, Ms Famurewa said “FrieslandCampina WAMCO is a responsible corporate entity in Nigeria. It does not condone any form of undue commercial exploitation in any of its processes. The Company is fully committed to preventing and eliminating any form of child labour in its supply chain.

“It continually works with stakeholders to develop and implement meaningful solutions, in line with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and with the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises.

“This ethos consistently forms part of its engagement with the pastoralist and
smallholder farmers. Additional review will be done to ensure all practices remain in line with the Oyo State Child Rights Law 2006 in particular and the Laws of Nigeria in general.”

In an earlier letter to PREMIUM TIMES last Saturday, the company had said, “FrieslandCampina WAMCO is glad that this concern has been brought to our attention as this gives us a chance to investigate the situation and, if necessary, to work towards providing remediation for the person(s)

We had earlier reported in our investigation that the Dutch government, which supports the company’s local sourcing programme in Nigeria, said it was investigating the child labour incidence and would share findings in “two weeks”.

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Neither Nigeria’s federal government nor Oyo State has reacted. Both declined to comment when contacted during our reporting and the silence continues following the publication of investigation on Tuesday.

In a developing country like Nigeria where state authourities are barely effective in delivering their own responsibilities and holding multinationals to be socially responsible, children are particularly vulnerable to abuses.

However, the UNGPs for Business and Human Rights say that “The responsibility to respect human rights is a global standard of expected conduct for all business enterprises wherever they operate. It exists independently of States’ abilities and/or willingness to fulfil their own human rights obligations and does not diminish those obligations.”

Child labour in supply chain

Through FrieslandCampina’s Dairy Development Programme based in Oyo, the company off-takes raw milk daily from cattle farms across the state, which employ the unpaid labour of children, our investigation revealed.

As of April 2019, the company already collected 789.5 thousand litres of raw milk in Oyo State, a presentation the company shared with this newspaper showed.

Except in one case where we found two out-of-school children working as cleaners in the company’s own facility at Baale, near Fashola, Oyo State, the working children not in direct contract with FrieslandCampina, but the results of their labour are clearly linked with the operation and the products of the company.

“This type of ‘linkage’ situation will be the leading source of child labour risks,” according to the ILO and the International Organisation of Employers’ Child Labour Guidance Tool for Business, which is grounded in the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, 2011.

The 2011 UN guiding principles on business and human rights recognise that businesses have an obligation to act with due diligence to address adverse human rights issues with which they are involved wherever they operate “regardless of states’ abilities and/or willingness to fulfill their own human rights obligations.”

Similarly, the OECD guidelines for multinational enterprises specifically ask companies to “Contribute to the effective abolition of child labour and take immediate and effective measures to secure the prohibition and elimination of the worst forms of child labour as a matter of urgency.”

In an interview for our investigative report, Juliane Kippenberg, associate director in charge of child’s rights division at Human Rights Watch, said, “Companies have a responsibility to ensure they are not contributing to abuses in their supply chains.”

According to the current Global Estimates on Child Labour published by the ILO under the 8.7 Alliance in 2017, progress against child labour “appears to have stalled” in Africa, where 85 per cent (61.4 million) of children affected are reported to be in the agriculture sector, including livestock herding of the sort practised in Nigeria’s cattle farms at Osomo, Igbokeke, Olonje and Alaruba among others that supply FrieslandCampina.

But a development expert, Seun Kolade, from the De Montfort University’s Leicester Castle Business School in the UK, said progress against child labour can be made if businesses like FrieslandCampina and others that depend on the primary sector are more socially responsible and act with due diligence to check abuses in their supply chain.

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