Today, May 15, is the official Blog for Human Rights Day. Bloggers all over the blogosphere will be posting about human rights issues today, and I hope you will check out some of the many concerns being shared. I also hope that you will give some thought to one of the human rights issues that is a particular concern of mine: child labor.
Many of us think of child labor as a thing of the past. Pictures like this one of a young miner led the people of the United States to pass strong laws against child labor in the last century, and American children are pretty well protected.
But the International Labor Office tells us that almost 218 million children in today’s world work instead of being in school. It is possible to find smaller estimates, because some count fifteen year olds as adults, or only count these children as workers if they are working excessive numbers of hours (over 43 per week for teenagers, for example). Children are more susceptible to exploitation than adults, and more vulnerable to health problems from harsh working conditions. Many children work under conditions that are much more dangerous than those we tolerate for adults in the United States. Far too many have simply been sold into slavery by their desperate families.
The ILO recognizes that children work safely alongside their parents on family farms, care for younger siblings, and do other kinds of economic activity that are acceptable in their cultures. So when we talk about child labor as something to eradicate, we are talking about children who are being exploited, children who are working under conditions we would never tolerate for our own children or for ourselves, children who are prevented by their work responsibilities from attending school.
First, vote with your pocketbook. Don’t support companies which rely on child labor. The chocolate industry is one of the worst in this arena. Nestle, Hershey’s, and M&M/Mars all have documented cases of child labor and have failed to respond to the problem. Household goods made of cotton, rugs, coffee, tires, and many more items are produced with child labor. Retailers such as Wal-Mart and Lowe’s are particularly known for their problems in this area. Wal-Mart, in particular, has enough economic power that they could actually end child labor merely by refusing to stock products made with the work of children; instead, thery are one of the worst abusers. Use the Responsible Shopper website or the Blue Pages to check on companies before trading with them. Support companies like Equal Exchange which not only refuse to buy products created with child labor, but work with communities to solve the underlying problems leading to the practice.
Second, let those companies know that you have stopped shopping with them and why. Here is a message for Nestle, one of the worst. Here you can send a letter to Firestone about their use of child labor in Liberia. You can visit the website of any company and choose their contact link to let them know that you will shop with them only when they clean up their act.
Third, educate yourself and others on the problem. Changes in attitudes toward child labor caused the end (or severe reduction) of child labor in developed countries. Share the documentary Stolen Childhoods with your book club, church, bowling league, or social group. Plan to observe the World Day Against Child Labor on June 12th.
Look at your children today, think of the children chained to looms in India or working 10 and 12 hour days on pesticide-ridden coffee plantations, and do not allow yourself to think that there is nothing you can do about it.