Date: 27 Nov 2009

Assessing the validity of impact pathways for child labour and well-being in social life cycle assessment

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Abstract

Background, aim and scope

Assuming that the goal of social life cycle assessment (SLCA) is to assess damage and benefits on its ‘area of protection’ (AoP) as accurately as possible, it follows that the impact pathways, describing the cause effect relationship between indicator and the AoP, should have a consistent theoretical foundation so the inventory results can be associated with a predictable damage or benefit to the AoP. This article uses two concrete examples from the work on SLCA to analyse to what extent this is the case in current practice. One considers whether indicators included in SLCA approaches can validly assess impacts on the well-being of the stakeholder, whereas the other example addresses whether the ‘incidence of child labour’ is a valid measure for impacts on the AoPs.

Materials and methods

The theoretical basis for the impact pathway between the relevant indicators and the AoPs is analysed drawing on research from relevant scientific fields.

Results

The examples show a lack of valid impact pathways in both examples. The first example shows that depending on the definition of ‘well-being’, the assessment of impacts on well-being of the stakeholder cannot be performed exclusively with the type of indicators which are presently used in SLCA approaches. The second example shows that the mere fact that a child is working tells little about how this may damage or benefit the AoPs, implying that the normally used indicator; ‘incidence of child labour’ lacks validity in relation to predicting damage or benefit on the AoPs of SLCA.

Discussion

New indicators are proposed to mitigate the problem of invalid impact pathways. However, several problems arise relating to difficulties in getting data, the usability of the new indicators in management situations, and, in relation to example one, boundary setting issues.

Conclusions

The article shows that it is possible to assess the validity of the impact pathways in SLCA. It thereby point to the possibility of utilising the same framework that underpins the environmental LCA in this regard. It also shows that in relation to both of the specific examples investigated, the validity of the impact pathways may be improved by adopting other indicators, which does, however, come with a considerable ‘price’.

Recommendations and perspectives

It is argued that there is a need for analysing impact pathways of other impact categories often included in SLCA in order to establish indicators that better reflect actual damage or benefit to the AoPs.

Responsible editor: Andreas Ciroth