Verism Maplecroft has highlighted child labour risks in the top 10 cotton producers – with those shown in red representing "extreme risk"

Verism Maplecroft has highlighted child labour risks in the top 10 cotton producers – with those shown in red representing "extreme risk"

Despite years of action to eliminate child labour, businesses sourcing cotton from many of the world's largest producing countries still face significant risk of association with child labour – and a new map highlights where the biggest challenges lie.

According to the Child Labour Index 2016 from risk analytics company Verisk Maplecroft, child labour continues to be reported in the cotton industry in some of the world's leading cotton producing countries, including India, China, Pakistan, Uzbekistan and Burkina Faso.

An adequate national legal framework, although important, is not sufficient to reduce the rates of child labour, the group says.

For instance, Uzbekistan ratified all relevant international conventions and included all the necessary provisions in the national legislation following accusations of state-sanctioned child labour in the country's cotton industry. While the laws and policies have been effective in eliminating the employment of young children in the industry, child labour between 15-17 years continues to be a problem, particularly during the cotton harvest.

On the other hand, Australia – the world's second largest exporter of cotton – has no federal minimum age of employment, which can be considered a weaker legal framework against child labour than that of Uzbekistan. However, children and young workers are not exposed to the same levels of risk because the state imposes compulsory school attendance until age 17. As such children under age 17 had minimal involvement in work beyond minor casual work.

Government enforcement efforts are a much greater predictor of the prevalence of child labour violations in a given country than an adequate national legal framework to prevent child labour.

Australia is again a good example of a major cotton producing country with targeted enforcement efforts translating into low risks of violations. The provision of decent work is also an important indicator of child labour risks.

Indeed, Verisk Maplecroft's Decent Wages index demonstrate that the risk of child labour violations is lower in countries where adult workers receive adequate wages that help them support their families.

Another report from Verisk Maplecroft earlier this year highlighted modern slavery, a lack of information on labour practices deep within the supply chain, and inadequate oversight of suppliers as among the biggest threats to brand reputation in 2016.

10 human rights risks to supply chains in 2016