Child Labour:

Get Informed, Get Involved.

The Basics


Child labour can be defined as: "the use of children in industry or business, especially when illegal or considered inhumane" (Oxford). Although that does identify what child labour is, it does not allow one to attach to the actual meaning and seriousness that child labour is. Child labour is malnourished children in old, torn clothing, working long hours on the most physically demanding tasks making little to no money. It is being beaten by their owners if not doing a satisfactory job, but never running away for they fear what may happen to their family. It is being denied access to education, a childhood, and a freedom and not even being paid enough to keep food on the table. Child labour is wrong, there is no justification for it, yet it is still prominent in many countries and being used by large corporations.

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Where Does it Occur?

Child labour occurs in almost every country around the world, as 1 in 7 children are forced into it. The 2012 study done by Maplecroft, a risk analysis firm has unraveled some startling statistics about the abundance of child labour. Using an index of 197 countries, 76 or nearly 40% of the countries now pose extreme child labour risks. The top ten at risk countries are listed from worst to better as follows: Myanmar, North Korea, Somalia, Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Zimbabwe, Afghanistan, Burundi, Pakistan and Ethiopia. There seems to be a trend in the types of countries who top the list, as most of the top 10 are war torn or are ruled under an authoritarian government. As seen in the child labour map below, eastern and southern regions seem to be the most at risk areas, while north western or the developed countries seem relatively untouched

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Who Employs Child Labourers?

It comes as a shock to most people that some of the most popular countries in developed countries known to make clothing, food, or entertainment products all employ child labourers. One of the worst industries for child labour is the chocolate or cocoa industry. Companies such as Hershey's, Nestle and Lindt which make some of the most popular chocolates have all either admitted to or been caught employing child slaves. The reason this is so prevalent is due to the fact that West Africa is the world’s biggest exporter of cocoa, as nearly 70% of the world’s supply comes from this region. It is estimated that 1.8 million children are involved in growing cocoa in this area. Chocolate companies aren't the only industry known for using child labourers. Popular clothing companies such as Victoria's Secret, Wal-Mart, H&M, The Gap and Abercrombie and Fitch are known for harvesting their cotton in places such as Uzbekistan which is known for having children as young as 9 working in cotton fields. Even a company as beloved as Apple has been uncovered by an internal audit using 106 child workers in production at apple suppliers in 2013. They are employed using fake identification papers, and are forced into low wages and cramped, unsanitary working spaces.

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Child Labour in the Cocoa Industry

16x9 - Child Labour: The Dark Side of Chocolate

Causes of Child Labour

Barriers to Education- basic education in many countries is either not free or not at all available. Parents see more value in selling or sending the children into work camps rather than getting them an education. Also, by not having an education children loose access to better jobs and therefore cannot escape the cycle.

Culture and Tradition- since there are few opportunities for education, parents are likely to share a cultural norm in which labour is seen as a productive use of the child's time. Children are expected to follow in their parents footsteps and are asked to help family members at a young age.

Poverty- with little to no income in many families that either have little access to jobs, too large families or have endured the cycle of child labour themselves. This leaves selling their children for extra income a last but necessary resort.

Market Demand- children are cheaper than their adult counterparts and can be dispensed easily if labour demands fluctuate.

Poor Enforcement of Legislation- although there are declarations and laws against child slavery such as the Human Rights Declaration and the Harkin Engel Protocol, many of theses legislations become overlooked, or not even spoken of.

How Much Does the Public Actually Know?

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The results presented in this graph shows that people are relatively aware of the mass amount of people trapped in child labour. Although some people may have legitimately known the answer, I also realized that a lot of survey participants chose the highest amount simply because they expected it to be a shocking number; otherwise the question would be slightly irrelevant. There is also a shocking percentage of people, 9% to be exact, who think the amount of children in slavery is only 50 million. This shows that there are still a few people who aren’t aware of the extent of child labour.

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Results from this particular graph show that the majority of people, 75% to be exact, believe that most children would earn a minimum of 10 cents a day, which is $36 a year. Although this is still a disgustingly little amount of money, children forced into work make way less than this, if nothing at all. The average income of child labourers is $10 per year which only one eighth of the surveyed crowd got correct. This could contribute to the reasons westerners don’t really care about companies working with children for employees, since they don’t know just how poorly these children are treated.

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The results from this particular question were the most shocking to me. I would think that as an inclusive society we would hope for punishment towards companies committing ethical injustices. Understandably some things are hard to avoid, such as the cocoa bean Hershey’s uses. The area which it is harvested complies 70% of all output of that bean. Although it may be hard to avoid the bean, it is definitely possible since there are plenty of other successful chocolate companies like Cadbury, who has in fact released anti-child labour campaigns. I personally expected more people to think that fining was necessary, and have only a quarter think that that was too harsh. Child labour is avoidable, so why allow companies to get away with the sickening conditions they are placing these children into.

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I found this question to be very controversial. On one hand the answer could be true, because in the short term companies will profit greatly since they pay little amount for goods that cost in even less. Other than that there is no benefit to the economy. Should the people become more aware of the child labour situation, certain companies could be boycotted, and this would result in less money flow and therefore a drop in the economy. Also, if the price of goods were to increase, less people would be willing to purchase the items, and the company would have less money. Most of the people seem to see the short term boost in the economy, which is why child labour is widely considered a controversial necessity. This could contribute to the reasoning behind why child labour is not getting solved, but in fact becoming worse.

What do Theorists Have to Say?

Antonio Gramsci:

Antonio Gramsci's theory of cultural hegemony can be applied to the reasoning behind why people purchase products they know have been obtained through the use of child labour. Cultural hegemony can be defined as the domination of a culturally diverse society by the ruling class who manipulate the beliefs, values, perception and overall culture of that society. If large corporations and CEO's can alter perception of products being more important than where they come from, or make consumers believe that they are treating employees fine, there will be no argument and the income which supports companies using child labourers will continuously flow.

Karl Marx:

In 1848 Karl Marx published his ten revolutionary points in a newspaper, one of which stated "Free education for all children in public schools. The abolition of child labour in factories; an educated child would be better for society in the long term, than a child not educated". According to Karl Marx, should child labour effect education levels, the outcomes will be negative. Therefore child labour should not be used, and all children should become educated.

Globalization and Child Labour

There is no definitive evidence that shows exposure to international trade, and worldwide economic integration raise the incidence of child labour. If anything, the evidence points the other way. Parental decisions whether a child should work or go to school depend on the costs and benefits of education. Due to capital market imperfections educational investments may be limited by household income constraints. In a country that starts out with an uneducated workforce, globalisation raises the wage rates of uneducated, relative to educated workers. This could lead to the reduction of the need to educate a child, and raises the incentive to make the child work at the earliest opportunity. On the other hand, if the wage rate of uneducated workers rises, this will have a positive income-effect on the demand for education. This proves the overall effects of globalization are relatively ambiguous.

For countries located at the bottom of the global spectrum, a whole new set of issues could arise. A country that starts out with a largely uneducated workforce risks being excluded from trade in intermediate goods with the more developed countries. Globalisation could then further impoverish countries with poor initial conditions. For all these reasons, child labour is likely to rise where the share of educated workers is very low.

Get Involved

Despite the enormity of the issue that is child labour, it is an issue that can be fought not only by policy makers, but also by ordinary citizens. People just like yourselves can help end this atrocity by becoming informed, spreading the word and even campaigning against or boycotting companies that employ child labourers. There are also many charities and foundations that you can donate to or volunteer for such as:

Foundations such as these and many others raise money and awareness about this issue and help take a step towards a child labour free future.