What is the solution to child labor? Current situation by country and industry, as well as activities that restaurants can do.


Japan’s food situation is characterized by low food self-sufficiency and reliance on imports. Child labor in imported foodstuffs is an important issue for restaurants as well. Ingredients supplied by children who work without receiving compulsory education are all around us.

Many people in the restaurant industry may wonder if there is anything they can do to help when they see the term “child labor. The first step that restaurants can take is to learn more about child labor, including the distribution of industries and countries where it occurs.

This article will present the current state of child labor and detail what restaurant personnel can do to help. Understanding why some children are forced to work may lead to changes in the way restaurants operate.

The first step in solving child labor is to understand the current situation

child labor

In order to solve child labor, it is essential to know the current situation. This is because without understanding which areas actually have the problem and what kind of problems they are facing, it will not be clear what individual restaurants can do to help.

To begin with, child labor is when children who should be receiving compulsory education have their opportunities to learn reduced and are forced to work. It is a reality that we should not turn our eyes away from the fact that some of the food imported from overseas is produced by child labor.

To realize the initiatives that restaurants can take, let’s start by knowing the right status quo.

[By Country/Industry] Current Situation of Child Labor

child labor

According to the results of a study conducted by JICA (Japan International Cooperation Agency) in 2020, there are 160 million children in the world who are in labor.

Let us review the current situation by country and industry to better understand children working without compulsory education.

Percentage of countries

The population of child labor is 160 million. The largest number, 86.6 million, is in Sub-Saharan Africa. Central and South Asia follows with 26.3 million.

The main reason why so many children in sub-Saharan Africa are forced to work is because of the deteriorating social conditions. The growing population is creating poverty, and small children are forced to work in order to survive in a society where civil wars and conflicts are taking place.

Percentage by industry

Among the industries involving child labor, the agriculture, forestry, and fisheries industry has a population of 100 million, accounting for 70% of the total. The remaining 30% are located in the service and industrial sectors.

Among these, much of the cacao, the main ingredient of chocolate, is produced by small children. In the service and industrial sectors, children continue to work without adequate education.

[Related Article] “Ethical” chocolate is a hot topic. What do you need to know about sustainability before Valentine’s Day?

Three Causes of Child Labor

child labor

The reasons for the constant stream of children working in harsh environments are highlighted when we focus on the country as a whole. We need to look at the world to understand the causes rather than the individual circumstances of the workers.

1. poverty

Without financial resources in the country itself, the number of needy people will only increase. Individual families will become poor and will be forced to work.

Poverty is especially high in developing countries. The reality is that there are children who migrate from rural areas to urban centers and continue to work for low wages.

2. Inadequate educational environment

The educational environment is not well developed and children do not receive satisfactory support to enter the workforce. Because they do not have opportunities to obtain general education, they are unable to develop the skills to earn wages as a member of society.

In some countries, there is still a custom of not giving women educational opportunities. When women become adults without the knowledge they were supposed to gain through compulsory education, a vicious cycle occurs in which the next generation follows the same path.

3. Changes in social conditions

Countries involved in civil wars and conflicts produce children who are forced to work amidst the hardships of life. It is also nothing short of child labor that forces them to participate in combat as soldiers.

Changes in social conditions are not only caused by humans. Due to the COVID-19, the number of child labor cases, which had been declining, increased for the first time in 20 years.

COVID-19 has caused an increase in the number of needy people and the number of families whose children have to work.

Japanese imports involving child labor

Child labor Chocolate

For those of us living in Japan, we must rely on imports from abroad to lead a satisfactory life. And we must not forget that some imported products involve child labor.

cacao bean

Seventy percent of Japan’s cacao beans are imported from Ghana. In Ghana, it is said that one out of every 10 children is engaged in child labor, and the labor of many children is exploited in the process from cacao cultivation to shipment.

The production of cacao involves various processes, including harvesting and fermentation. Cacao nuts and beans are too heavy for children to carry by their own strength, and they also pose a risk of injury.

[Related Article] “Ethical” chocolate is a hot topic. What do you need to know about sustainability before Valentine’s Day?


Coffee is second only to cotton and sugarcane in terms of child labor. In developing countries, the reality is that men go to other regions to work while women and children stay behind to work on the coffee plantations.

The reason why coffee is available to us at such low prices is because small farmers around the world, including children, continue to work for low wages. Unless the world becomes a place where people are paid a fair wage for their labor, the current situation will not change as children continue to work without compulsory education.

[Related Articles] What Restaurants Can Do to Solve the “Coffee 2050 Problem”


Cotton is a necessary material for making clothes and towels. Cotton is widely used in daily life and is mass-produced by children around the world.

Japan also imports cotton from overseas, and the reality is that it is involved with child labor. For this reason, attention is beginning to focus on “sustainable cotton,” which does not involve child labor in its production route.

[Related article] “Recycling of tablecloths” is realized by recycling tablecloths discarded by the company. New Brand “eterble” Released

Four International Solutions to Eliminate Child Labor

child labor

Much child labor is caused by the country itself.In order to reduce the number of children who continue to work, it is important to come up with international solutions.

1. Setting global guidelines through the SDGs

The SDGs are a set of globally agreed-upon common indicators to solve social problems that occur in every country, including the goal of eliminating child labor by 2025.

Specifically, efforts are being made around the world to eliminate poverty and provide educational opportunities for children.

2. Establishment of guidelines by the government

Government legislation is essential to eliminate child labor. For example, in Ghana, where cocoa bean production is dependent on child labor, the government has enacted “the Child Labor Free Zone (CLFZ)”, which promotes the guarantee of children’s rights and welfare.

Free zones are areas where labor by children who have not received compulsory education is defined as a violation of human rights, and where ongoing corrective measures are taken. The system is designed to eradicate child labor by providing active support from the local government.

3. Transparency of production process

In the agriculture, forestry, and fisheries industries, such as cacao beans and coffee, much child labor occurs in the production process. Therefore, by making the production process transparent, the issue of small children continuing to work will be highlighted.

There is also a movement to pay special rates to farmers who are not involved in child labor. This is a mechanism to improve the income of healthy farmers, thereby creating a world that does not need child labor in the first place.

If the production process becomes more transparent, more people will buy only products that have arrived through proper channels, which will lead to the elimination of child labor.

4. Setting of standards by the International Labor Organization

The eradication of child labor has drawn attention to the work done by the International Labour Organization (ILO), an agency that works to solve the problem of forced labor internationally as well as for children who continue to work.

The ILO is unique in its power to enact conventions to eliminate children working without access to a proper education. For example, “Convention No. 138“, which sets a minimum age for employment, and “Convention No. 182“, which prohibits trafficking in persons and coercion into armed conflict, have been adopted by the ILO General Conference.

In order to realize the SDG goal of “eliminating child labor by 2025,” we need to set standards to protect children and work toward improvements.

Three Activities Restaurants Can Do to End Child Labor

Fair Trade Restaurants

What should restaurants do to avoid being complicit in child labor? Here are some specific measures that each restaurant can take.

1. Incorporate fair trade products into the menu

Fair trade is a “trade mechanism” that aims to improve the lives and independence of producers and workers in developing countries who are in a weak position by continuously purchasing raw materials and products from developing countries at fair prices. Fairtrade certified products are those that have been audited and certified by a third-party certifying organization to ensure that producers are being paid an appropriate wage. Sourcing certified food products avoids complicity in child labor.

Furthermore, Fairtrade certification is not given to agricultural products or products made by individual producers, but to each producer cooperative. This allows the producer cooperatives to purchase equipment to improve productivity, build schools and hospitals, and so on, for the benefit of the producers as a whole. In recent years, a variety of coffee and chocolate products have received Fairtrade certification.

[Related Article] What’s the Appeal of Restaurants that Support Fair Trade? Introducing Our Commitment to a Sustainable Food Culture

2. Engage in donation and fundraising activities

One way to support efforts against child labor is through donations and fundraising. Restaurants can donate a portion of their sales, or place a donation box next to the cash register with a message expressing the restaurant’s thoughts and stance.

The most popular donation recipient is “Japan Committee for UNICEF”. It continuously carries out activities on a large scale, which is possible because it is a United Nations agency. The “Specified Nonprofit Corporation Kamonohashi project” is supported by about 15,000 members and is simultaneously working to help victims regain their own lives and to create a system to prevent the business of human trafficking from becoming a reality.

A number of other organizations are also active, and their support varies in character. You may want to consider a donation recipient that fits your store’s attitude.

3. Utilize ethical products

Have you ever seen the words ” ethical consumption,” “ethical fashion,” or “ethical cosmetics”? Ethical is a concept that takes into consideration not only the global environment, but also people and animals. In recent years, an increasing number of products have been promoted as being sustainable, such as not involving unfair labor in their production routes.

One product that can be actively utilized in restaurants is the use of sustainable cotton. Sustainable cotton is cotton that has a low impact on the labor environment and the local environment during production. It is recommended to introduce tablecloths and uniforms made of such cotton.

[Related article] “Recycling of tablecloths” is realized by recycling tablecloths discarded by the company. New brand “eterble” released.

Let’s learn about the current situation of child labor and engage in activities we can do as restaurants.

child labor

In order to eliminate child labor, the first thing a restaurant should do is to understand the current situation of children working in harsh conditions. Without knowing the causes and problems of child labor, it is impossible to take concrete action.

According to a UNICEF announcement in September 2023, global goals for child rights, such as child labor, will be largely unattainable if things continue as they are now.
[Related Article] Most SDGs on children’s rights feared unattainable. UNICEF’s latest announcement

For those of us living in Japan, the term “child labor” tends to conjure up images of a distant country. However, since most child labor takes place in the agriculture, forestry, and fisheries industries, it is a familiar issue that is closely related to the field of “food”. It is a problem that should be addressed by the entire food industry, including restaurants, and we should start by doing what we can.

[Related Article]


[Reference Site] JICA: Information gathering and verification survey on child labor in the cocoa sector in the Republic of Ghana
[Reference site] (IOL) International Labor Organization: International Labor Standards (Standard Setting and Monitoring Organization )
[Reference site] Specified Nonprofit Corporation Kamonohashi project

table source 編集部
table source 編集部
table source 編集部では、サステナビリティやサーキュラーエコノミー(循環経済)に取り組みたいレストランやホテル、食にまつわるお仕事をされている皆様に向けて、国内外の最新ニュース、コラム、インタビュー取材記事などを発信しています。