Partner Africa, a UK-registered business-social audit firm, engaged by FrieslandCampina WAMCO following a PREMIUM TIMES’ investigation that exposed child labour in the Dutch multinational company’s supply chain in Nigeria, has released its report, containing claims that substantially differ from the truth.
“From our research we observed that the Fulani children working in the communities supplying milk to FrieslandCampina WAMCO are best categorised as ‘working children’ rather than child labour,” Partner Africa’s executive director Sara Clancy said in a statement to PREMIUM TIMES last Friday.
“This conclusion is made on the basis that, as we state in our report, Fulani children who are involved in light work around the homes and the farms have access to education, time to play and are not in hazardous conditions,” the official said, summarily restating the key point of the firm’s report shared with PREMIUM TIMES on January 21 by FrieslandCampina.
However, crucially, the Partner Africa’s report does not indicate it visited the farms where and when milking takes place to determine incidence of child labour.
The Fulani children who work to extract the milk sold to FrislandCampina in Nigeria are not able to attend school and some of them sleep in hovels on isolated farms, bare of any water and sanitation facility. This is child labour as defined by the International Labour Organisation and Nigeria’s child rights law.
Following months-long investigation that included visits to over a dozen cattle farms across Oyo State, western Nigeria, where FrieslandCampina sources raw milk, PREMIUM TIMES in December 2019 reported rampant child labour incidences in the supply chain of the Dutch dairy giant.
The report was published with motion and still pictures presenting evidence of child labour.
After the publication, FrieslandCampina engaged Partner Africa for an investigation of its supply chain. After a review and fieldwork that the firm says took six days, it released its report.
The Dutch government also reacted to PREMIUM TIMES investigation saying it was taking the matter ‘seriously’.
The report by Partner Africa refutes the routine incidences of child labour found by PREMIUM TIMES but the purported research, which the group says it conducted, lacked rigour and was conditioned by FrieslandCampina, our review and findings showed.
The report is flawed and demonstrates no sound premise for its findings, an analyst said, suggesting a rushed step to help the company cover up the adverse human rights issue in its Nigerian supply chain.
“My first impression here is that this is a whitewash and an attempt to deny,” said Seun Kolade, development expert and senior lecturer in strategic management at Leicester Castle School of the De Montfort University of the United Kingdom.
“As I feel that it is great that (the company) took action after being accused of child labour, which is an abuse of children’s rights, I wonder whether this organisation (Partner Africa) has actually gone to the farms which you investigated and spoke with the children and the people involved,” commented Miriam Mannak, South African development journalist, who writes for publications in Europe and South Africa.
“It almost feels the researchers of Partner Africa haven’t gone to the farms and have spoken to stakeholders who are not directly involved in child labour.”
Ms Mannak received the Partner Africa’s report.
While Partner Africa reports “medium risk of child labour,” it says also “we identified no actual instances of child labour or of children’s engagement in hazardous work in the settled milk-producing Fulani communities supplying WAMCO and participating in the Dairy Development Programme we sampled as part of this investigation.”
First Flaw: A guided and conditioned research
In the wake of our publication in December, sources among the Fulani suppliers of FrieslandCampina described how they were subtly intimidated by the company as its officials expressed worries about disclosures assumed to have helped PREMIUM TIMES uncover routine child labour incidence.
The suppliers then held a series of meetings, and in a particular case in Iseyin, those identified or suspected as having spoken with PREMIUM TIMES were blamed.
Many of them feared our report could affect their relationship with FrieslandCampina and they resolved against further disclosures in respect of child labour.
That was the context of the field at which Partner Africa conducted its research after it was hired by FrieslandCampina. The firm’s report appears to recognise that the respondents during the research were influenced and had previous awareness of the questions.
“We note that the stakeholders consulted were well-informed on the contents of the journalist’s report (PREMIUM TIMES investigation) and it is possible that they had time to prepare answers to our researchers’ questions in advance,” the report says, disclosing research limitations.
“A number of stakeholders were keen to stress the positive impact of the DDP and the social investment from WAMCO on their communities’ livelihoods. We recognise that it may be in these communities’ best interest to dismiss these allegations in order to protect their relationship with WAMCO and the continuation of social investment.”
Partner Africa admits FrieslandCampina “compiled the field plan, and helped provide access to information”, suggesting the research was not independent.
The field researchers (of Partner Africa) were accompanied by (FrieslandCampina) WAMCO extension officers; however, these representatives were not present during KIIs (key informant interviews) and were only present at the discretion of the field research lead during FGDs (focus group discussions),” says the report.
“We are wondering if this can be regarded as the outcome of an independent investigation,” commented PREMIUM TIMES’ Editor-in-Chief Musikilu Mojeed in a reply to the company after receiving the report. “Especially given the fact that the NGO which carried it out was contracted by WAMCO itself to do so. More often than not, he who pays the piper calls the tune. It is possible that only a few people will take this report seriously.”
Partner Africa also suggests FrieslandCampina required the research be limited to only ‘direct’ engagement with stakeholders within the supply chain without involving external actors such as NGOs, local organisations or the media, which would have helped a greater level of transparency.
“This (engagement with external actors) was not included in this study and we recommend further external engagement going forward,” says Partner Africa.
“This is almost something of a hatchet job, an elaborate plan to cover what’s happening,” said Mr Kolade. “The report from a method point of view does not inspire much confidence. The method section is sketchy and fishy. They didn’t give details about the method. You can still adhere to the principles of anonymity but provide details about when the interviews took place, where they took place, what were the criteria for selection- for individual interviews and the focus group discussions. What were the exclusion criteria?”
The development expert then queried: “What measures, given the sensitivity of the case, did you (firm) take to ensure that both individuals and groups give unbiased, free-minded responses?”
However, Ms Clancy, Partner Africa’s executive director, said “our report was independent and the findings were in no way guided or influenced by
“Partner Africa researchers are trained to identify inconsistencies and manipulation of information and we take our position as an independent NGO working to safeguard the rights of individuals in global supply chains and improve working conditions very seriously.”
Flaw two: No evidence Partner Africa visited any farm where and when milking actually takes place
Partner Africa reports it found no incidence of child labour after having only purportedly been to the Fulani pastoralists’ communities, the company’s collection centres, three commercial farms, and interacted with 123 respondents.
The firm reports no visit to the Fulani farms at the time milking takes place in the morning. Reporting no child labour in the supply chain, therefore, suggests a concoction to help FrieslandCampina cover its corporate sustainability failure.
PREMIUM TIMES authoritatively reported that unpaid child labour routinely goes into the extraction of milk sold to FrieslandCampina as the company fails to implement necessary due diligence that could have helped check that adverse human rights incidence. This followed our visits to several farms at the time the milking of cows took place.
The milking takes place at about 5 – 6:30 AM each morning and we obtained videos and photos of children involved. To ensure evidence was obtained from farms actually supplying FrieslandCampina, PREMIUM TIMES was led to the farms by milk collectors engaged by the company.
Partner Africa only probably visited Fulani settlements, which are different from the farms where milking takes places; and observed domestic work such as cleaning and sweeping being carried out by children as commonly seen in other homes.
“If you want to know what is going on with children, speak with children, not adults because they’d be protecting one another,” said Ms Mannak, South Africa’s development journalist, who criticised the absence of children among the respondents interviewed by Partner Africa.
Partner Africa’s report says the researchers could not interview children because of limited access citing the Fulani’s “conservative culture”.
PREMIUM TIMES mentioned this flaw to Partner Africa. The firm’s reply through Ms Clancy, however, does not address the concern that its researchers were not at the Fulani farms where and when milking actually takes place to determine presence of child labour.
Flaw three: No mention of schools purportedly attended by the pastoral children
“Stakeholders told us that 100 per cent of the children of the appropriate age in their communities attend school and are not employed in child labour,” Partner Africa reports.
Although the firm says it visited 13 schools purportedly attended by the Fulani children, it only saw two open as the others were on holiday.
Apart from not mentioning the schools it visited, it admits “it was difficult to confirm the school attendance rates of Fulani children or speak to as many teachers as we would have liked to.”
Also, if the respondents indeed reported that 100 per cent of their children, that was likely because the research conducted was guided by FrieslandCampina, which Partner Africa admits helped compile the field plan.
The reality, as our investigation showed, is that the children, involved in the supply chain of FrieslandCampina, are not in school and their role may pose a risk to their development against international principles and Nigerian law. 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.
They return at dusk. Their ages notwithstanding, they sleep in hovels 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.
It is ironic that FrieslandCampina accepted Partner Africa’s report having previously told PREMIUM TIMES repeatedly that the Fulani pastoral groups were conservative and ill-disposed to education and the company should not be blamed for the rampant incidence of non-schooling and working children.
Ms Clancy said, at the two schools researchers saw open, “we were able to visually confirm Fulani children’s attendance and speak to teachers who were able to confirm community sentiment towards education as good.”
It is not clear why the said two schools opened during holidays, while others did not.
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.
The report also ignored the video published by PREMIUM TIMES containing evidence of child labour.
Despite the flaws in the report, Partner Africa recommends that FrieslandCampina should “develop an ongoing localised due diligence programme around tracking and monitoring child labour risks and human rights impacts, including through the engagement of external stakeholders such as local NGO, youth associations and civil society organisations, and aim to access women’s and children’s voices through continued engagement in the Fulani milk-producing communities, building trust and rapport.”
PREMIUM TIMES had already reported that in its dealing with those Fulani pastoralists in Oyo State, the company did not implement necessary due diligence to check adverse human rights and sustainability issues as required by international principles on business.
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 last year (though not immediately enforced).
It also runs contrary to the duties expected of businesses in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Despite not reporting incidence of child labour, Ms Clancy said, “we flagged the risks as there are many improvements that could be made by FrieslandCampina WAMCO in their engagement with the communities, including a need to continue to undertake due diligence on the supply chain, particularly with the aim of building enough trust and rapport to hear women and children’s voices. We have assurances from FrieslandCampina that they are committed to acting upon our recommendations.”