The use of child labor in supply chains is one of the biggest risks to a company's reputation, and elimination of child labor has now become part of corporate social responsibility. Worldwide, children perform many different jobs in a huge range of conditions. International and national laws set minimum ages for different kinds of work. Yet the way in which child workers are treated is often far from ethical.

In response to this, international children's development agency, 'Save the Children', has launched a practical guide for business on tackling child labor. 'Big Business, Small Hands: responsible approaches to child labour', aims to help companies tackle child labor in a way that is positive for all concerned, from the shop on the high street through the supply chain to the child working to produce the goods.

Fiona King, advisor on corporate social responsibility for Save the Children and co-author of 'Big Business; Small Hands', explains: "Child labor is now seen as one of the biggest risks to a company's reputation, and its elimination is a priority in the agenda of ethical business and government. But the way child workers are treated is often far from ethical. 'Quick fix' solutions involving sacking child workers often leads to children ending up in more dangerous employment. 'Big Business; Small Hands' outlines a genuinely ethical approach to child labor ― where children's interests are the key considerations in business decisions. Save the Children urges far-sighted and courageous companies to pioneer this truly ethical approach to children and to encourage others to do so."

Currently, an estimated 12 million children worldwide are working to supply international big business. As the global economy expands it is possible that yet more children living in poverty will be drawn into the long, complex supply chains of international business. Save the Children is concerned that big business recognizes the crucial, positive role it can play in breaking through the cycle of poverty, and ensuring that children today fulfill their potential in the workforce and societies of tomorrow.

Lesley Roberts, group business standards advisor for Pentland Group, comments: "Sitting in London writing a code of conduct for suppliers, it seems so easy to say 'No child labor should be employed in the manufacture of our products'. The world is, however, not that simple, and it is unfortunately easier to so the expedient thing rather than the right thing. So what do we do? The worst thing is to take production away from that factory, that town, that country, which will just increase poverty levels and put more pressure on children to work. Save the Children is helping us all find ways to 'do the right thing'".

The guide provides answers to common questions such as: "What is a responsible approach to child labor?" and "Should companies stop trading with suppliers using child labor?" It outlines the implications for business and advises on what action to take and how, from finding out about child labor through site visits to monitoring child labor. 'Big Business; Small Hands' also lists a range of organizations that can help responsible minded businesses in working to tackle child labor positively.

Dr Kim Howells MP, Minister for Corporate and Consumer Affairs and contributor to the guide's forward, comments: "The government welcomes any initiatives taken by business which ensure their practices are in line with International Labour Organisation core labor standards. We do not expect businesses to do this purely out of altruism but, as the guide states, it is good business sense. If they do not act, businesses may find it difficult not only to maintain their brand reputation, but also to recruit and retain the brightest and best staff, or to find investors."

Save the Children has over ten years' experience in supporting child workers and their families in 20 countries, from India to the Philippines. The organization is also involved in researching child labor issues in many countries, including the UK, and has provided technical assistance to child labor audits by professional audit companies. The guide is therefore written with the benefit of practical experience and learning on the ground.

A copy of the 'Big Business, Small Hands: responsible approaches to child labour'is available from Save the Children at £9.95, or five for £30.00. Contact Publications Sales on +44 (0) 20 7703 5400.