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IKEA Expands Program to Prevent Child Labor in India’s Cotton Fields

Image credit: CNN Freedom Project

IKEA Foundation and Save the Children have announced plans to expand a child rights program aimed at protecting children living in cotton communities in India.

So far, the initiative has helped to protect more than 600,000 children, IKEA says. The $9.4 million expansion will extend the program’s reach to keep an additional 790,000 children out of cotton fields and in classrooms where they can learn, play, grow and develop. There are an estimated 12.6 million child laborers in India.

During this second phase, Save the Children, Pratham and Breakthrough will work with panchayat leaders, farmers, teachers, families and Indian state officials in Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan, to provide children with access to quality education, improve teacher training, develop local child protection committees and school management committees and tackle issues such as gender-based discrimination.

An independent research study in 2008 revealed that prosperous Punjab has a large number of children working in the agriculture sector, with an estimated 25 percent of them in cotton picking. Rajasthan and Haryana are not far behind, with 23 percent and 16 percent, respectively.

The expanded program will build on the successes of Phase One, which began in 2009 in more than 1,800 villages in the states of Maharashtra and Gujarat. The major accomplishments of Phase One include:

  • Over 150,000 children moved out of child labor and into classrooms
  • More than 10,000 migrant children moved back into their home communities
  • Improved school enrollment rates in participating villages
  • Nearly 2,000 teachers trained
  • 1,866 Anganwadi (health, education) workers trained in teaching practices, giving each village in the program a skilled community worker

This initiative is also aimed at tackling the deep rooted issue of gender-based discrimination, which starts even before birth. One of the areas of critical concern is of the declining child sex ratio in the states of Punjab and Haryana which are the lowest in the country — with figures of 834 and 846 per 1,000 male children (as per 2011 census), respectively. This initiative will help protect girls from these circumstances by establishing community groups that will champion girls’ rights and awareness of gender-based discrimination and ensuring girls' education.

Migration of child workers also is a major issue in the state of Rajasthan, with children leaving their homes to work in nearby cotton regions. Based on a successful model pioneered in Phase One, an inter-state migration network will be set up to identify migrant child workers and help them move back to their families, homes and communities.

Earlier this year, IKEA announced it has expanded its use of sustainably sourced cotton to 72 percent, up from 34 percent in 2012. The furniture company uses around 0.6 percent of all cotton grown around the world, and in 2013 sourced 79,000 tons of cotton from more sustainable sources; it used a total of 110,000 tons of cotton in 2013.

Last year, IKEA was among the 136 brands and companies to sign the "Company Pledge Against Forced Child and Adult Labor in Uzbek Cotton," which declares a refusal to source cotton from Uzbekistan until the country ceases the forced labor of children and adults in cotton fields.


Based in San Francisco, Mike Hower is a sustainability strategist and storyteller on Edelman's Business + Social Purpose team where he works with some of the world's leading brands on corporate sustainability strategy and stakeholder engagement. With several years of… [Read more about Mike Hower]