With dignity, and that is harmful to physical
With an estimated 150 million children ages five to fourteen working, child labor is a serious problem in many of the world’s poorest countries (Americans’ Attitudes). Constrained to work long hours in hazardous jobs, numerous children in poverty have little alternatives but to work to help bolster their families. Aside from the physical risk these children face, their prospects for rising from poverty are greatly weakened, as without an education, they have little hope of developing the skills they need (Americans’ Attitudes). Child labor is often defined as “work that deprives children of their childhood, their potential and their dignity, and that is harmful to physical and mental development (What is). You might think that you are even remotely connected to child labor, but, in fact, many items used in today’s world have been picked or crafted by child workers. These children may have produced the clothes you are wearing, the shoes you are walking in, and the phone you are using. As consumers who live in a country that dominates and influences the global economy, we hold the responsibility to not support companies that endorse child labor. To understand why child labor is still relevant and how we, as consumers, can help stop it, we must understand the forces behind it. Because child labor is such a complex issue with a variety of causes, there is no single factor that can explain child labor practices in developing countries. Poverty is the most common cause of child labor, but besides that, there are many indirect factors that cause it. The main causes are uneducated parents who are more likely to consider education insignificant, social structure of the community that has been tolerant towards child labor, a country’s education system and a brutal cycle that passes child labor practices down to younger generations (ILO, 2011). For families who are economically struggling, education becomes a luxury. Many working class parents are forced to choose between two extremely difficult options for their children, either education or extra family income. Families solely cannot afford to have their children unemployed, because sending them to school means high opportunity cost for families. This lack of education ultimately often affects children’s attitude toward education and makes them more likely to send their own children to work, when growing up, and continuing the cycle of poverty, lack of education, and child labor.Additionally, countless of children are involved in the worst forms of child labor, which can cause irreversible physical or psychological harm; sometimes specific types of work are even life-threatening. In Bangladesh, garment factories demand an average of 12 to 14 hours of work every day, (Fallon and Tzannatos, 1998) and many other countries present similar conditions. “…Children continue to work for long hours in an extremely harmful environment, are poorly paid or unpaid, and are very often abused by their employers and co-workers (Fallon and Tzannatos, 1998).” Children in agriculture are excessively exposed to heavy chemicals and possible accidents from motorized equipment. The most alarming yet significant effect of child exploitation is on the sociological and psychological health of children (Fallon and Tzannatos, 1998). Because childhood is the most critical stage for developing cognitive and social ability, children who are apart from their families to earn money experience negative effects on their mental health (Brooks-Gunn and Duncan, 1997). Domestic service child workers are the primary example. According to many psychologists, child workers who had or have domestic service occupations undergo serious psychological and social adjustment problems (Brooks-Gunn and Duncan, 1997). The World Health Organization reported that “psychological stress, premature aging, depression, and low self-esteem are common symptoms among young household helpers.” (Fallon and Tzannatos, 1998). This is because they are usually isolated from their families, which are the most important factors during children’s development period.With that in mind, cotton is one of the most popular materials used in fabric today and account for nearly half of all clothing today (Cotton, 2016). Out of the many countries that export cotton, Uzbekistan leads the world as the fifth largest exporter of raw cotton (Uzbekistan, 2017). Each year, one third of this country’s population is forced work in the cotton fields, and out of that number, two million are children between the ages of six to fifteen (Forced and Child Labor, 2017). Reportedly, many children attend school in the morning, and then in the afternoon depart on government run busses to their forced labor in cotton fields around the country. The Uzbekistani government controls the workers, their pay and how they live. District mayor, Uktam Kuranov has commented on the issue of the government forcing everyone to work, “Cotton! You have to go and pick cotton and fulfill the norm. Is it clear!?…. This policy applies to everyone! If even one person does not go out, it will be bad for you! I’ll shut down your organizations! (Uzbekistan, 2017). The fault does lie in the government, but what pushes the government to meet this set quota are the buyers of the cotton. The companies that purchase the raw cotton ultimately support the Uzbekistan government forcing these children to work, but those companies would not exist if the consumers did not purchase their merchandise. In North America, the Uzbekistani cotton is sold in stores such as: Urban Outfitters, Toys R US, Victoria Secret and others (Blog Archives). Many western consumers don’t know how prevalent child labor still is today and the horrible life they lead.On the other hand, some would argue that child labor is a part of certain cultures. “It is not uncommon to find a child working alongside his father in the mines. Mining is often a family tradition, generations having worked the same mines in Cerro Rico Bolivia. (…) In the Cerro Rico mines the cycle of working early in life and dying young constantly renews itself (Dunnel, 2009). Many developing countries, especially Southeast Asian countries, consider child labor normal. By banning child labor, families that rely on it to make a living will have nothing left to support themselves. “If their income falls because of trade sanctions, these families may be forced to rely even more on child labour to make ends meet. (…) We see that external pressure tends to lower domestic support for child-labour regulation and may contribute to the persistence of the child labour problem in developing countries (Doepke and Zillbiotti). However, there are ways we can do as consumers to reduce child labor. There are numerous U.S. companies that make conscious efforts to create better working conditions for workers in developing countries. With the help of CARE, one of the world’s largest private non-profit organizations, they are both able to connect to parts of the world where their help can directly impact communities and provide needed relief in coffee- and tea- origin countries (Schultz and Smith). Starbucks Coffee Company contributed $120,000 in CARE, and has helped raise more than $1.8 million dollars (Schultz and Smith). They have also affected the lives of approximately 2.7 million people in Africa, Latin America, and Southeast Asia (Schultz and Smith). Starbucks also sells “fair trade certified coffee” which ensures that the farmers received a guaranteed minimum price for their coffee that helps them have a better quality of life (Schultz and Smith). Another company that shares the same values as Starbucks is The Body Shop. The Body Shop uses Community Fair Trade Program, which is a commitment to trade fairly with communities in need around the world (Customer Care). The main goal of this program is to “help create livelihoods and to explore trade-based approaches to supporting sustainable development by producing ingredients and accessories in socially and economically underdeveloped communities” (Study of Corp. Social Responsibility). If each organization upholds this sort of approach as the standard of their business, it can have a gigantic effect in lives of children around the globe.Overall, harmful child labor is a serious problem in several countries. The primary reasons for child labor are due to poverty and the lack of access to quality education among the poor. As consumers, we should be aware of where products are being made and how they’re being made. Without knowing where that product comes from, there is no way to ensure that the items you buy are actually not made from child labor. We also have the power to demand that companies use fair trade business methods to ensure that the products being exported are fair. Businesses such as Starbucks and The Body Shop have shown that through programs such as Care and Community Fair Trade Program. How you spend your money can affect the lives of people all around the world. By expressing the rights we have and using our money carefully, we can promote ethical companies and encourage countries to end forced child labor. Each person can be part of the campaign to end child labor if they simply remember to buy wisely.