11 February 2004, The Financial Times

Sir, The international trade union movement recognises Mr Pradeep S. Mehta’s assertion (Letters, February 10) that child labour and poverty are strongly connected. However, it is too simple to see the issue of child labour as solely being the consequence of poverty – it is also a significant cause of poverty, often locking families into a cycle of penury.

Getting children out of work and into school is an essential foundation stone for economic and social development. There are numerous concrete examples of this being the case, some indeed within Mr Mehta’s native India, where investing in children’s education and removing them from work has been done successfully. Equally important is ensuring that adults have access to decent employment, where labour standards are respected and thus workers can negotiate a fair wage.

Breaking the cycle of poverty and child labour requires action on many fronts. The International Labour Organisation’s important study shows the real cost of inaction for current and future generations and sets out effective steps that can be taken. Unfortunately too many governments are still prepared to let things be, spending a fortune on their military and a pittance on education and job creation, while allowing widespread exploitation of adult and child workers alike.

*Guy Ryder, General Secretary, International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, 1210 Brussels, Belgium