Six-year-old Yusufa Isah shares a makeshift wooden sleeping platform with Tijani Abubakar, 13, on this isolated cattle farm, about 40 minutes’ walk from their family settlement in Osomo Village in Iseyin, Oyo State, southwest Nigeria.
The two underage boys lay on a mat half-covered with a mosquito net. There is no infrastructure or water or sanitation facility here.
“This is where he sleeps with the cows,” says a mature pastoralist who only gave his name as Mohammed. He pointed his hand at Tijani, who looked up at intervals shyly. Yusufa hid in the makeshift home as though frightened at the sight of a stranger. The three individuals share an extended family tie.
Under Nigerian laws, as well as guidelines set under the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals and Human Rights Commission’s Guidance Principles for Business and Human Rights, Yusufa and Tijani should be in school. Similar protocols by the International Labour Organisation and the Organisation for Economic Corporation and Development support that position.
But against relevant laws, the boys spend most of their days each week herding and milking cows, generating the key ingredient that goes into the production of dairy products.
At 5 AM each day, they begin the first task of extracting milk from cows. By 11 AM, they herd the animals to graze in the bushes and urban areas, trekking several kilometres in keeping with an outdated animal husbandry method still common in sub-Saharan Africa.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.
Yusufa and Tijani are not the only child workers here. Mohammed Isah, 13, also works on the cattle farm at Osomo and several others also do in other parts of Oyo State, such as Fashola, Maya, Saki, and Alaga, where FrieslandCampina WAMCO, the Nigerian subsidiary of Dutch dairy giant Royal FrieslandCampina and producers of Peak Milk and Three Crown, collects raw milk.
The United Nations Children’s Fund says 10.5 million children are out of school in Nigeria, many of them from pastoral families like those in Oyo State. The ILO deplores child labour as “a violation of fundamental human rights” and says it has been “shown to hinder children’s development.”
Regardless of these concerns, the Nigeria government is not doing nearly enough to enforce its own law on child labour or to respect global conventions that protect the rights of children.
Months-long investigation by PREMIUM TIMES that included visits to over a dozen cattle farms across Oyo State, showed child labour routinely boosts the production and perhaps profits of FrieslandCampina. Our investigation also revealed that the company failed to implement necessary due diligence that would have helped check the rampant incidence of child labour in its supply chain.
“Companies have a responsibility to ensure they are not contributing to abuses in their supply chains,” Juliane Kippenberg, associate director in charge of child’s rights division at Human Rights Watch, told PREMIUM TIMES.
Through FrieslandCampina’s Dairy Development Programme based in Oyo, the company off-takes raw milk daily from cattle farms across the state, which employ the unpaid labour of children, our investigation revealed.
Though the children are not in direct contract with FrieslandCampina, the results of their labour are clearly linked with the operation and the products of the company.
“This type of ‘linkage’ situation will be the leading source of child labour risks,” according to the ILO and the International Organisation of Employers’ Child Labour Guidance Tool for Business, which is grounded in the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, 2011.