Six-year-old Yusufa Isah shares a makeshift wooden sleeping platform with Tijani Abubakar, 13, on this isolated cattle farm, about 40 minutes’ walk from their family settlement in Osomo Village in Iseyin, Oyo State, southwest Nigeria.
The two underage boys lay on a mat half-covered with a mosquito net. There is no infrastructure or water or sanitation facility here.
“This is where he sleeps with the cows,” says a mature pastoralist who only gave his name as Mohammed. He pointed his hand at Tijani, who looked up at intervals shyly. Yusufa hid in the makeshift home as though frightened at the sight of a stranger. The three individuals share an extended family tie.
Under Nigerian laws, as well as guidelines set under the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals and Human Rights Commission’s Guidance Principles for Business and Human Rights, Yusufa and Tijani should be in school. Similar protocols by the International Labour Organisation and the Organisation for Economic Corporation and Development support that position.
But against relevant laws, the boys spend most of their days each week herding and milking cows, generating the key ingredient that goes into the production of dairy products.
At 5 AM each day, they begin the first task of extracting milk from cows. By 11 AM, they herd the animals to graze in the bushes and urban areas, trekking several kilometres in keeping with an outdated animal husbandry method still common in sub-Saharan Africa.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.
Yusufa and Tijani are not the only child workers here. Mohammed Isah, 13, also works on the cattle farm at Osomo and several others also do in other parts of Oyo State, such as Fashola, Maya, Saki, and Alaga, where FrieslandCampina WAMCO, the Nigerian subsidiary of Dutch dairy giant Royal FrieslandCampina and producers of Peak Milk and Three Crown, collects raw milk.
The United Nations Children’s Fund says 10.5 million children are out of school in Nigeria, many of them from pastoral families like those in Oyo State. The ILO deplores child labour as “a violation of fundamental human rights” and says it has been “shown to hinder children’s development.”
Regardless of these concerns, the Nigeria government is not doing nearly enough to enforce its own law on child labour or to respect global conventions that protect the rights of children.
Months-long investigation by PREMIUM TIMES that included visits to over a dozen cattle farms across Oyo State, showed child labour routinely boosts the production and perhaps profits of FrieslandCampina. Our investigation also revealed that the company failed to implement necessary due diligence that would have helped check the rampant incidence of child labour in its supply chain.
“Companies have a responsibility to ensure they are not contributing to abuses in their supply chains,” Juliane Kippenberg, associate director in charge of child’s rights division at Human Rights Watch, told PREMIUM TIMES.
No Due Diligence
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.
Though the children are not in direct contract with FrieslandCampina, 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.
In one particularly troubling case, PREMIUM TIMES found two children of school age working as cleaners at the company’s facility at Baale, where the company donated a solar-powered borehole to the community.
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.”
The corporate responsibility failure by FrieslandCampina breaches Nigeria’s child rights and basic education laws. It is also potentially a crime in the company’s home country, The Netherlands, where the Child Labour Due Diligence Law obliging companies to check child labour in their supply chain home and abroad was adopted this year (though not immediately enforced).
It also runs contrary to the duties expected of businesses in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
“The Netherlands is not the first country to take steps toward tackling child labour… It is encouraging to see that lawmakers in the Netherlands have joined this trend (of countries such as France, United Kingdom and Australia that have introduced legislation for due diligence on human rights and modern slavery in global supply chains),” said Ms Kippenberg of Human Rights Watch in an article, welcoming the anti-child labour law in The Netherlands, which she shared with PREMIUM TIMES. “Companies need to be held accountable for human rights conditions in their supply chain,” she added.
Children’s sweat, FrieslandCampina’s gain
In Nigeria, the Dairy Development Programme promoted as FreislandCampina’s flagship sustainability practice aims at sourcing raw milk from local pastoralists to develop the dairy sector. It is endorsed by Nigeria’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development and the Dutch Foreign Affairs ministry. Starting in 2011 with a collection facility at Baale Village, near Fashola in Oyo West LGA, the company now has more facilities at Saki, Maya and Alaga with a bulking centre in Iseyin.
The company has made a pioneering effort in helping develop the dairy sector in Nigeria, where pastoralism mostly focuses on beef. It says its intervention has resulted in about 3,000 crossbred dairy cows across Oyo State and it is extending its local sourcing facilities to Niger State, central Nigeria.
The supply chain, however, involves the extraction of milk from cows done by children, PREMIUM TIMES can report.
When PREMIUM TIMES met Sanusi at his cattle farm at Igbokeke Village in Oyo West LGA in October, his two children had just finished extracting milk from the cows for the day. One of those boys was Yunusa, 10-year-old boy.
“If you want to see how milk is extracted, you come very early in the morning,” said Mr Sanus, who migrated from Niger State in central Nigeria. He said Yunusa had to do the work “compulsorily”.
He answered in the negative when asked if the children working with him were receiving an education. He also said their labour was unpaid.
Between the pastoralists and the company in the supply chain, there are motorcycle riders enlisted to go take the raw milk from farms to the collection facilities. These are adults who are able to scrape together some money.
At 6 AM, the riders have to go to the farms to collect the milk using 10-litre or 20-litre jugs tied to their bikes. At about 8 AM, paths that link villages that surround the milk collection centres are busy with the riders.
They buy a litre of raw milk extracted by children from the pastoralists for N80 ($0.22) or N100 ($0.28) depending on the distance.
“For farms not far from a collection point, we pay N100 for a litre but N80 where the farms are far away,” explained Umar Hammed, a rider, who described how under-15 children extract milk on the farms at Olonje and Alaruba Villages of Oyo West Local Government Area where he sources for FrieslandCampaina.
Each rider is paid N120 ($0.33) per litre of milk by the company. So, the riders are able to keep for themselves N20 ($0.055) or N40 (0.11) on each litre depending on the location of the farms. A rider may be able to collect up to 50 litres from different farms a day but each farm scarcely extracts up to 20 litres a day.
FrieslandCampina realised N123 billion in 2016 from sales of its dairy products in Nigeria, according to the company’s financial report for that year. Part of that revenue may have come off child labour.
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. An emailed request for the contribution of the local collection to the country’s overall raw material was not granted.
A secretary of the pastoralists in Iseyin, Husseini Tijani, said Iseyin alone supplies 5,000 litres daily; and in June 2017 during the opening of its Saki collection centre, the company said its daily collection from local dairy farmers through the DDP was already 40,000 litres.
The pastoralists and their farms are formally known to FrieslandCampina, which has tried to organise them into cooperatives and for training programmes. But concerns remain about child labour, said Mr Tijani.
Somehow, in the company’s ISO 26000 declaration, it lists education, as well as culture, as a low priority in its corporate social responsibility policy. (ISO 26000 provides guidance on how businesses and organisations can operate in a socially responsible way and it is also grounded in the UNGPs on Business and Human Rights).
“But that should not be seen from face value,” the company’s Corporate Social Responsibility Manager, Ojeawe Ajulo, told PREMIUM TIMES at the company’s Lagos office. He said he company prioritised education although there were other items it considered more important. “Human rights which we state as high priority cover everything.”
In the company’s ISO 26000 self-declaration, it lists suppliers, such as farmers, among its stakeholders. The company now has 7000 farmers – apart from modern “smallholder” farmers, like Moyosore Rafiu of Iseyin-based Genius Farm, supported by the company – its officials said.
The company’s rider, Mr Hammed, said the company did not tell him and his colleagues not to collect milk extracted by children. He, and another rider, Abdullah Agbona, said separately children “up to 15 years” and “up to 12 years” were milking cows at the farms, including Alaruba, Olonje, Latula, Olodo and Galadinma, among others where they source from for FrieslandCampina.
Child labour worst in Africa
Mr Hammed, a company’s rider, said the company did not tell him and his colleagues not to collect milk extracted by children. He, and another rider, Abdullah Agbona, said separately children “up to 15 years” and “up to 12 years” were milking cows at the farms where they source from for FrieslandCampina.
While Nigeria’s child rights law permits children to help parents do light work in agriculture or horticulture, it categorically prohibits any engagement of children for any purpose that deprives them of the opportunity to attend and remain in school.
Similarly, the universal basic education law provides that children of primary and junior secondary school or between the age of six and 16, like Yusufa and Tijani, must access compulsory and free basic education.
According to the current Global Estimates on Child Labour published by the ILO under the 8.7 Alliance in 2017, there are 152 million children in child labour globally, accounting for almost one in ten children of 5-17 years worldwide. Target 8.7 of the SDGs specifically calls on the global community to end child labour by 2025 in all its forms.
The report says that child labour is most prevalent in Africa. “Africa ranks highest both in the percentage of children in child labour – one-fifth – and the absolute number of children in child labour – 72 million,” it says.
The report says 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 farm at Osomo Village that supplies FrieslandCampina.
According to UNICEF, citing ILO, “the number of working children under the age of 14 in Nigeria is estimated at 15 million. The major causes of child labour, according to UNICEF, are widespread poverty, rapid urbanisation, breakdown in extended family affiliations, high school dropout rates, and lack of enforcement of legal instruments meant to protect children.
What the organisation does not list, however, is the failure of downstream businesses that depend on primary producers in agriculture or animal husbandry, to act with due diligence and leverage their position of power in the supply chain to address child labour incidence.
A development expert, Seun Kolade, from De Montfort University’s Leicester Castle Business School in the United Kingdom, told PREMIUM TIMES that such businesses are in a position of power and responsibility to address child labour incidence, “because they play a key role in the value chain.”
Mr. Kolade, who has publications on education, pastoralism and business in Nigeria, added: “The primary sector relies heavily on the downstream businesses for their income, so those downstream businesses cannot abdicate responsibility. Nor should they escape sanction.
“Nevertheless, it is a shared responsibility. The responsibility of the downstream businesses does not substitute for the responsibility of the primary sector to ensure they refrain from child labour.”
Company promises probe
PREMIUM TIMES made its findings known to FrieslandCampina.
“No child labour is going on,” said a company’s PR consultant, Kunle Hamilton. Mr Hamilton insisted this newspaper had no evidence and had not been to the farms.
When provided with more details of our investigation, he said, “Some of the things you have alleged, I don’t see myself but we are doing something that will improve society at large.”
He added that all the training programmes had been for “adults, men, and women.” This is true. Nevertheless, the actual milking of the cows for supply to the company is routinely by children, who do not attend school.
Later in an email response, Mr Hamilton said, “FrieslandCampina WAMCO is a responsible corporate citizen that works as preferred partners of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development in improving Nigeria’s dairy sector and the lives of dairy farmers and their families.
“We are not aware of your allegation. We continue to do everything we can to improve life and living in communities under our Dairy Development Programme.”
In a letter on Saturday, the company’s Executive Director of Corporate Affairs, Ore Famurewa, said the company “is committed to preventing and eliminating child labour in its supply chain and working with stakeholders and working with stakeholders to develop and implement meaningful solutions, in line with the UN Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights and with the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises.”
Ms Famurewa continued, “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) affected.”
She said the company “will work with an international NGO to conduct an independent investigation into these incidents and look for a meaningful response.” The findings of the said NGO’s investigation, she said, would be shared “directly with you by the international NGO.” She did not disclose the name of the NGO or when it is to start the investigation.
The Dutch ministry of foreign affairs, which supports the company’s operation in Oyo State, Nigeria, was reached by phone for comment. A respondent said she could not comment and requested an email via the ministry’s contact form on its website, which we did as advised. A reply last Tuesday indicated “no enough information to answer your question” and a further transfer to a more suitable authority to comment.
The Second Secretary at the country’s embassy in Abuja, Chelsey Buurman, told PREMIUM TIMES by phone, last Thursday, that the government was investigating the child labour incidence and would share findings in “two weeks”. “We aim to share a response soonest,” she added in a followup email.
“Our children need education”
Although basic education is officially free and compulsory, 10.5 million children Nigerian children aged 5-14 years are not in school, says UNICEF. Only 61 per cent of 6-11 year-olds regularly attend primary school and only 35.6 per cent of children aged 36-59 months receive early childhood education, it added.
There are no definitive statistics regarding the contribution of the pastoral children to the out-of-school incidence, but some believe that anti-school sentiment is culturally deep among the group.
“It is not easy to change them,” said a senior official of FrieslandCampina who called following our email and requested anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to the press on the matter. “We are just trying to change their culture and settle them and it is not what will happen overnight.”
Mr. Tijani, the secretary for the Osomo-Iseyin pastoralists supplying FrieslandCampina, told PREMIUM TIMES the pastoralists are attitudinally ill-disposed to education.
“They fear their children may be jobless and not return to raise animals,” he said. “So, having their children to raise the cattle is a way of ensuring they have a job.”
However, Mr Tijani said some “pastoralists now don’t want their children to do like they are practising. They know the land available is shrinking because of new houses and animals will not move freely. So, they want a better way of practising (pastoralism).”
He said FrieslandCampina could help incentivise positive attitude towards education among the pastoralists by making no-child labour a condition for collecting milk from farmers.
“Since they (FrieslandCampina) collect milk from the Fulani (pastoralists), they should encourage us so that our children will go to school and become like their officials later,” he said. “If the company says to buy milk from farmers, the farmers should not use children to get milk or that they enrol their children in school, there will be change because the farmers want to continue selling their milk.”
Mr Tijani said the firm does not pay “thorough” attention to the concern about child labour and education raised by some of the pastoralists.
“This issue of education has been raised many times but there is no any change from them (the company),” he said. “They have to take thorough action on it.”
Nigeria’s federal and state governments have shown little capacity to enforce the country’s laws against child labour.
The Section 30 (2)(D) of the country’s Child Rights Act provides that a child shall not be used for “any purpose that deprives the child of the opportunity to attend or remain in school as provided for under the Compulsory, Free Universal Basic Education Act.”
The spokesperson for Oyo State, Wasiu Olatunbosun, did not comment for this report when reached by phone.
A government spokesperson, Ikemefuna Ezeaja, from the ministry of agriculture and rural development, said he could not comment when reached by phone last week. A followup call and a text message were not answered.
Due to the impacts of corruption and weak institutions as well as poor work ethics, the capacity of the state to penetrate the society and implement laws and policies is eroded. Consequently, despite having laws in place that make basic education free and compulsory, prohibit child labour and even specifically provide for nomadic schools for itinerant pastoral families – and funds for these purposes – Nigeria’s incidence of child labour, as well as children out of school, is one of the worst in the world.
For instance, two state-funded schools at Igbokeke and Baale villages, visited on different days during our investigation, had no teacher on duty at about 9-10 AM and on Fridays, the villagers at Igbokeke said, the teachers would not come at all. Supervisory officials at the Local Government education inspectorate are aware of the teachers’ dereliction of duty in the rural communities but are not enforcing duty standards, one official said.
So, 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.”
Solution: “Carry out due diligence checks on all suppliers…”
The development expert, Mr Kolade, 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, Mr Kolade suggested.
“Multinational corporations should be made to sign an agreement – preferably legally binding ones – that commits them to carry out due diligence checks on all their suppliers to ensure that their suppliers abide by relevant national legislation and international laws against child labour,” he said.
“The MNCs should be compelled to publish the names of their suppliers, making them publically available. This is the most effective way to facilitate public scrutiny, ensuring that the companies abide by their commitments in tangible and measurable ways.
“There should be a regular audit – may be annual – of companies with regard to their commitment to child labour legislation. This audit should be publicly available on companies’ websites. This ensures that the public is co-opted as monitors of compliance. Good in the context of developing countries where institutions are weak and still evolving and very much vulnerable to elite capture and official corruption,” he said.
In the end, minors like Yusufa, Tijani, Mohammed and Yunusa do not have to work in hazardous conditions if the primary producers are able to hire adults and adopt decent work instead, Mr Kolade added. But apart from insisting on decent labour standards, this may depend on the pricing of milk by the downstream businesses, like FrieslandCampina, and – in the context of Nigeria’s pastoral group that is long educationally-disadvantaged and conservative – the role of government and development partners in the process.