What the ILO Is Doing to Achieve Target 8.7

18 September 2018
Research Innovation

Michaëlle de Cock  | Senior Statistician, ILO Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work Branch
Scott Lyon  | Policy Research Officer, ILO Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work Branch

The global community acknowledges that the persistence of child labour and forced labour in the 21st century is unacceptable and has renewed its commitment to eradicate both in Target 8.7 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Meeting this SDG target is central to the ILO’s objectives of ensuring decent work for all, freedom of association and collective bargaining, and freedom from discrimination for all men and women all over the world.

Research is used to generate the evidence necessary for informed action towards the achievement of Target 8.7. It provides the basis for policy guidance, project support, advocacy, awareness raising and other areas of ILO support. Through its research work, the ILO and its partners have contributed to a major transformation of the child labour and forced labour information landscape over the past two decades.

ILO support to national child labour surveys has led to a sharp rise in the number of countries with robust national data on child labour and facilitated better national monitoring of progress on eliminating child labour. More and better national data has permitted quadrennial global estimates of child labour, which have been central to drawing global attention to the issue and how to address it. The global estimates have demonstrated to the international community that huge strides against child labour are possible with political commitment and sound policy choices—there were 94 million fewer children in child labour in 2016 than in 2000—offering hope and guidance for efforts towards ending child labour by 2025. Forced labour is harder to measure, but methodological innovations have contributed to important progress in estimating its prevalence and characteristics, both within specific countries and economic sectors, and permitted the publication of a global estimate of forced labour in 2016. Most importantly, better data has led to an improved understanding of child labour and forced labour as well as the factors underlying them, which is indispensable for the design and targeting of policy responses.


Statistical data. Unsplash/Chris Liverani

To facilitate this evidence-based work towards the full realization of human rights at work, the ILO’s research is organized around three related components. The first focuses on the development and refinement of measurement guidelines, sampling methods and survey instruments necessary for generating robust statistics on child labour, forced labour and human trafficking. Innovative and robust tools and guidelines are necessary to provide solid data to inform policy and track changes. The second component involves support to research at the global level aimed at identifying cost-effective and equitable ways fundamental rights at work can be extended to all groups in society in diverse contexts. This encompasses research on the extent and the forms child labour and forced labour in global supply chains, which can help prevent these violations and informs the ILO’s broader research on decent work in global supply chains. In parallel, research on the economics of forced labour will shed light on the profits made through forced labour, but also on the costs and benefits of abolishing it. The third component of our research centres on direct support to national counterparts undertaking surveys and policy analyses in countries where child labour and forced labour are most common and where achieving Target 8.7 poses the greatest challenge.

A strong emphasis on partnership and collaboration underpins all elements of the ILO’s research. Active research partnerships—including with other ILO departments, other international organizations, non-governmental organizations, regional and national research institutions, and special multi-agency research initiatives—ensure that research benefits from a wide range of technical expertise, broaden the ownership and reach of research outputs, and create a common basis for action. Equally important are the array of relationships with governments and other national stakeholders established through hands-on country-level research cooperation. These relationships help promote national ownership of research outputs that is critical for “mainstreaming” research results into national policy and practice. Alliance 8.7 is playing an increasingly important role in bringing these diverse research partnerships together within a common framework, and this knowledge platform is a key part of these efforts.

Looking ahead, many research challenges remain. Data collection on child labour and forced labour at the country level needs to be regularized and made sustainable, including by integrating these issues into the regular survey programmes of national statistical offices.

[Research] provides the basis for policy guidance, project support, advocacy, awareness raising and other areas of ILO support.

There are also persistent knowledge gaps that impede the formulation and refinement of policy responses. A lack of information on policy impact is particularly important in this context. While we now have a wide array of country-level project experiences addressing these issues, we do not know enough about their specific impacts or relevance for broad-scale replication. Greater investment is needed in impact assessments that highlight lessons learned—positive and negative—and inform constituents about good practices in promoting action against child and forced labour. Other important knowledge gaps relate to the linkages of child labour and forced labour with other thematic priorities of Alliance 8.7, including global supply chains, conflict and humanitarian settings, migration, the rule of law and governance, rural economy and commercial sexual exploitation. Future ILO columns will look in more depth at research designed to address these knowledge gaps.

Beyond research itself, there is an urgent need to bring together and systematize the growing body of research and policy experience relating to fundamental principles and rights at work, so that it is readily available to governments, social partners and other stakeholders. The ILO has endorsed this knowledge platform as a critical component of this effort.

Michaëlle de Cock is a senior statistician with the ILO’s Fundamentals Principles and Rights at Work Branch.

Scott Lyon is a policy research officer with the ILO’s Fundamentals Principles and Rights at Work Branch.

This article has been prepared by Michaëlle de Cock and Scott Lyon as a contribution to Delta 8.7. As provided for in the Terms and Conditions of Use of Delta 8.7, the opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of UNU or its partners.

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