The Netherlands on Friday said the child labour practice, which a Premium Times investigation revealed in the Nigerian supply chain of Dutch multinational, FrieslandCampina, is being taken “seriously” and already a subject on the agenda of the European country’s food industry.
The Dutch government’s response to the investigation came two days after the company, FrieslandCampina, disclosed the engagement of UK-registered Partner Africa for a social audit of its Dairy Development Programme through which it collects raw milk from farms in Nigeria.
However, the Nigerian government has remained silent days after the publication of our investigation, which spotlighted the endorsement of the Dutch company’s local milk sourcing programme by Nigeria’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development and the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Both Nigeria’s agriculture ministry and Oyo State, where FrieslandCampina sources raw milk, declined to comment when contacted during our reporting and the silence continues following the publication of the investigation on Tuesday.
Nothing has come of repeated attempts to obtain reactions from Wasiu Olatunbosun, spokesperson for Oyo State, and Ezeaja Ikemefuna, the spokesperson for the federal agriculture ministry.
Also, on Friday, Nigeria’s labour minister, Chris Ngige did not answer calls placed to his phone, nor did he reply a text message requesting him to comment on our report.
In a developing country like Nigeria where state authorities are barely effective in delivering their own responsibilities and holding multinationals to be socially responsible, children are particularly vulnerable to abuses.
However, the UNGPs for Business and Human Rights say that “The responsibility to respect human rights is a global standard of expected conduct for all business enterprises wherever they operate. It exists independently of States’ abilities and/or willingness to fulfil their own human rights obligations and does not diminish those obligations.”
In a statement on Friday, Thierry van Helden, a senior official for the Dutch foreign affairs ministry, said the child labour which PREMIUM TIMES’ reported in the Nigerian supply chain of FrieslandCampina, is taken “seriously”.
“We are currently engaged in a dialogue with FrieslandCampina regarding this case,” said Mr Helden, who is the Dutch coordinator of the Public Private Partnerships and Inclusive Business. “We have also put this on the agenda of the steering group of the Dutch RBC (Responsible Business Conducts) Agreement for the Food Products Sector. Friesland Campina is part of this agreement through their Dutch industry association FNLI.”
The FNLI is the federation of food sector companies in the Netherlands.
Mr Helden said the government expects, “Dutch companies to conduct business in accordance with the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises and the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.”
“In line with the OECD Guidelines,” the official continued, “companies have the primary responsibility to conduct due diligence. This means amongst others they have to adopt RBC-policies, identify possible risks in their value chains and prevent or mitigate these risks.”
The PREMIUM TIMES’ investigation exposed how child labour routinely boosts the FrieslandCampina’s production and perhaps profits in Nigeria as the Dutch multinational fails to implement necessary due diligence that would have helped check the adverse human rights issue in its supply chain.
The children, like Yusufa Isah, six, Tijani Abubakar, 13 and Yunusa Sanusi, 10, usually sleep in hovels on isolated farms, bare of any infrastructure and water and sanitation facility. They are receiving an education.
At 5 a.m. each day, they begin the first task of extracting milk from cows. By 11 a.m., they herd the animals to graze in the bushes and urban areas, trekking several kilometres in keeping with an outdated animal husbandry method still common in sub-Saharan Africa.
The boys return at dusk. Their ages notwithstanding, they sleep on the isolated farm apparently to ensure the security of the animals in a country where farmers and herders frequently clash over land rights and resources.
According to the current Global Estimates on Child Labour published by the ILO under the 8.7 Alliance in 2017, progress against child labour “appears to have stalled” in Africa, where 85 per cent (61.4 million) of children affected are reported to be in the agriculture sector, including livestock herding of the sort practised in Nigeria’s cattle farms at Osomo, Igbokeke, Olonje and Alaruba among others that supply FrieslandCampina.
But a development expert, Seun Kolade, from the De Montfort University’s Leicester Castle Business School in the UK, said progress against child labour can be made if businesses like FrieslandCampina and others that depend on the primary sector are more socially responsible and act with due diligence to check abuses in their supply chain.
The company has vowed commitment to “preventing and eliminating” child labour in its supply chain and disclosed the engagement of Partner Africa for social audit of its Dairy Development Programme in Nigeria.
It had earlier during our reporting said, “FrieslandCampina WAMCO is glad that this concern has been brought to our attention as this gives us a chance to investigate the situation and, if necessary, to work towards providing remediation for the person(s) affected.”
Soji Apampa, who heads the Convention on Business Integrity Nigeria, said “FrieslandCampina can turn this incident into an opportunity and use the opportunity to set the standard of engagement and stamp their established leadership in the dairy sector as leadership in responsible business practices also.”
Nigeria has just recently banned foreign exchange for the importation of dairy products, meaning more companies would now source their raw milk locally with increased child labour risks given business-as-usual.
Mr Apampa said that forex policy by the Central Bank of Nigeria amounted to “bullying dairy companies into poorly thought-through backward integration attempts,” and suggested that may have “led to the cutting corners in due diligence.”