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GRI 408, 409

Child Labour and Forced Labour

The REWE Group sources a large number of products and product components through supply chains which can extended across multiple countries. The risk of child labour and forced labour plays an important role here.

Child labour and forced labour are focus issues in the area of action of people within the Green Products Strategy 2030. The REWE Group aims to systematically fight against child labour and forced labour.


Child labour is deemed exploitative when children under the age of 13 perform light work for more than a few hours a week, or when children under the age of 15 perform work that is hazardous or strenuously hard. In many risk countries, the ban on exploitive child labour is not sufficiently implemented and adhered to.

Forced labour often manifests itself through a restriction of freedom of movement, the withholding of wages and personal documents as well as debt to the employer or an employment agency. Since those concerned are often migrants who have immigrated legally or illegally, or temporary workers, forced labour is often not visible and is difficult to monitor.

GRI 408: Child labour;
GRI 409: Forced or compulsory labour

Management approach


The Guidelines on Sustainable Business Practices applies to all business relationships of the REWE Group. It is based on the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the conventions of the International Labour Association (ILO), and the UN Global Compact. The prohibition of forced labour is stipulated therein: No one may be employed against their will or forced to work under the threat of any penalty. The avoidance of exploitive child labour is also anchored here. The REWE Group adheres to the standards for child labour set by the ILO and applicable national laws. The REWE Group reserves the right to apply sanctions when the values contained in the guideline are deliberately and flagrantly breached.

As part of its membership with amfori BSCI, the REWE Group commits itself as well as all suppliers and producers to comply with the code of conduct of amfori BSCI and commits to its principles. These include the renunciation of exploitative child labour and forced labour. The REWE Group is continuously working together with its suppliers to improve labour and social standards.

Guidelines define the operational framework

In its Guideline on Fairness, the REWE Group has outlined its commitment to strengthening human rights and improving working conditions within the supply chains of all private label products of REWE, PENNY and toom Baumarkt DIY stores. The focus here is child labour and forced labour, living wages and income, and women in the supply chain.

In addition, in its Guideline on the Prevention of Child Labour, the REWE Group specifies its requirements and measures with regard to the prevention and elimination of child labour and defines a binding operational framework for business partners. Building on this guideline, the REWE Group has created a tool kit to help its business partners and production sites with the implementation of requirements for the avoidance of and fight against child labour. Various other guidelines mentioned below describe specific challenges and the requirements derived from these for suppliers of the REWE Group – also with consideration of forced labour and child labour.

A major reason for child labour is poverty. This is why the REWE Group, in addition to measures to fight against child labour, also focuses on promoting living wages and income. For more information, see Living Wages and Income.

Projects and measures to fight against child labour and forced labour

Risk analysis: Forced labour in the supply chain

In 2019, the REWE Group conducted a risk analysis to determine risks of forced labour in the supply chain. Firstly, the risks of forced labour were determined for all countries through which the supply chains of the REWE Group extend. In a second step, products and raw materials were analysed in consideration of the risk of forced labour. The data obtained was then linked to the country risks. A qualitative analysis of hot spots was then conducted. The occurrence and causes of forced labour were examined specifically in relation to these hot spots in case studies. Based on all of the analysis results, the REWE Group develops suitable measures to minimise risk.

Avoiding child labour and forced labour in raw material production

The REWE Group relies on internationally recognised certification standards to fight against child labour and forced labour at the raw material production stage and ensure socially responsible working conditions. The most important organisations are Fairtrade, the Rainforest Alliance, Cotton made in Africa, MSC, ASC, GlobalG.A.P. (GGN) and Naturland. They guarantee higher standards for raw material production and more transparent supply chains. Child labour and forced labour are prohibited under these standards. With regard to the raw material palm oil, the standard of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil is also key – this aims to ensure that no child labour or forced labour takes place on plantations.

Special case of child labour in the cocoa sector

Due to structural poverty and a lack of educational facilities, child labour is widespread in cocoa production. In order to keep costs as low as possible, children often help during the harvest, especially in small, family-based operations. The REWE Group is committed to ensuring that cocoa-containing products in its ranges are produced with respect for human rights and in compliance with recognised social and labour standards. For this purpose, the commercial company relies on relevant certifications such as Fairtrade, the Rainforest Alliance or Naturland. For more information, see also Guideline on Cocoa Products.

Measures to prevent forced labour in the fishing sector

A large share of traditional fishing and work in aquaculture farms takes place in Asia and Africa. In many cases, the working conditions in the countries there do not meet internationally recognised standards – in particular, there is an increased risk of forced labour. The aim of the REWE Group is to ensure respect for human rights and compliance with fundamental social and occupational safety standards in the seafood sector. The basic principles of not using child labour and, in particular, forced labour when working with suppliers of fish and seafood are especially relevant. By sourcing certified goods, the farms in the aquaculture supply chain are also checked for compliance with these basic principles through audits. Since there is still no established certification for labour and human rights when it comes to fishing boats, the REWE Group is committed to ensuring that social principles are included in the standards for wild fish and guaranteed through certifications. For more information, see Guidelines on Fish and Seafood.

For more information on dealing with child labour and forced labour on the resource-extraction level, see Raw Materials in Focus – Food and Raw Materials in Focus – Non-Food.

Monitoring the ban on child labour and forced labour through social audits

To monitor compliance with the ban on child labour and forced labour in processing and production, social audits are regularly carried out, principally applying the amfori BSCI standard (see Social Aspects in the Supply Chain). All production sites in the first supply chain link of defined risk countries are inspected during these audits. They take place both announced and unannounced. Afterwards, the respective company receives a rating based on the audit results. If the audit reveals a case of child labour or forced labour, the audited company does not receive an overall rating. Rather, the amfori BSCI zero-tolerance mechanism takes effect: The auditor triggers a warning message, stops the audit, and collects evidence to prove the violation. The violation is then reported to the amfori BSCI office within 24 hours of its discovery. Within 48 hours after the allegation has been made, the Auditing Department checks the facts, the evidence as well as the training and competencies of the auditor. Within 72 hours of the discovery, all amfori BSCI participants concerned form an ad-hoc remediation group to define the next steps and initiate measures, the implementation of which will be checked.

Strategically relevant production sites also take part in the Factory Improvement Training (FIT) of the REWE Group. Here, the challenges of the production sites are addressed individually. If there are risk factors for forced labour or child labour in a factory, these are dealt with during the training.

Cooperation with children's rights organisation

Cases of child labour and forced labour are not tolerated at the REWE Group and are dealt with thoroughly. In order to be able to react quickly in cases of child labour, the REWE Group has been working with the children's rights organisation “The Centre of Child Rights and Business” (formerly the Center for Child Rights and Corporate Social Responsibility) since 2018. The organisation advises companies on the implementation of strategies and programmes to ensure children's rights in supply chains. Through this cooperation, the REWE Group benefits from the expertise and network of the organisation, maintains dialogue with relevant stakeholders within the working group, and can use tools developed by the organisation. If cases of child labour are discovered, the centre helps the company to implement solutions.

Handling of complaints and evidence of forced labour or child labour

The REWE Group promotes the construction of effective complaint mechanisms in the supply chain. By doing so, the company wants to ensure that grievances in the supply chains can be discovered. This also concerns the reporting of cases of child labour and forced labour. The REWE Group already uses audits and certifications to check whether production sites offer their employees the possibility to make complaints. The REWE Group has developed a systematic process to handle complaints (for more information, see Social Aspects in the Supply Chain).

In 2021, the REWE Group received four complaints. All four cases were handled by applying a systematic process. In three cases, the trigger was suspicion of forced labour. In the first case, there was the suspicion that a supplier was illegally having work carried out in a prison. Based on an on-site investigation, however, this suspicion was cleared. In the second case, migrant workers had to pay fees themselves, such as for a work permit. Even though a subsequent evaluation revealed that this was not a case of forced labour, work is being done with the supplier concerned to improve processes. In the third case, a supplier was forcing its workers to do overtime. Since the supplier was not willing to change this practice even when asked, the REWE Group terminated the cooperation. The fourth case concerned rights violations related to child labour, occupational safety and wages. This case was still under investigation at the end of 2021. It is being evaluated whether the rights violations took place in the supply chain of the REWE Group.