Today, businesses are under the microscope for ethical practices. One that has come up often is Child Labor. This is the use of children for manual labor meant for adults.
United States view
Coming from the United States, I have always been taught that there needs to be protection for children before they reach the age of 18. After that age, they become adults, so to speak, and can make informed decisions as well as accept consequences following their decision.
In the U.S., we have the luxury of not having to rely on our children to care for the family. The government system is set in place so that those in need can acquire assistance. Children on the other hand are required to attain an education. The belief is that this education will help them in the future, which in turn will make them contributing citizens in the American economy.
But not in the too distant past, America also used children for labor. The atrocities children faced during those times were very similar to what we see today in other developing nations. It was not until the 19th century did we push for a reform in our law to abolish child labor.
Fast Forward to Modern Day
Today, America has abolished child labor to a certain degree and have given rights to children. Now much of our attention is focused on other nations such as Africa, India, China and Southeast Asia. All of which have reports of child labor.
With information able to spread so suddenly with the advent of the internet, companies are careful to choose their international business opportunities carefully. Still, these nations will use child labor in some businesses.
Still, as a nation, we need to know the reasons why a nation allows child labor before we can make our accusations.
Reasons for Child Labor
No one likes to hear it, but there are two main reasons for child labor in these nations: contribution to the household income and lack of educational infrastructure.
A child can contribute to the household income. Again, we take for granted what we have in America. Many of these nations have citizens needing to support their family. Usually, developed nations have larger family sizes than in developed nations. This can be because of education, lack of birth control, or cultural aspect. Also, if a family member gets sick, more members need to contribute in any way they can. This even means children having to find work.
There’s not educational infrastructure for the child. In many of these nations, education is a privilege, not a right. This means children have under-utilized time, which may lead them to seek jobs. Education is important in increasing awareness of future possibilities for careers. In order to achieve these careers, more time is needed to spend in school.
Again, these reasons are ones with good intentions. But unfortunately at times child labor is a means of extortion and coercion.
Intolerable Acts of Child Labor
At times child labor is not used for benevolent reasons, but in forms of extortion and coercion.
In some nations, not withstanding America, children can be used as a means of extortion. At times, there are debts extended to families that they cannot feasibly repay and their children are used to help repay the debts. Other times, children are coerced in child labor. Usually, they are orphans or kidnapped children coerced into child labor. These children have no choice but to follow the adults in this situation. They know no better and have no power in negotiations.
These lead to more human rights violations than just child labor.
Ultimately what we are seeing now are the same issues America has faced and, to some extent, still faces today. There are justified reasons for child labor, but there are just as many injustices in child labor.
There are the injustices in child labor that are embarrassingly overlooked. Not because they are not important, but because we have little power and influence to make a difference. So as stakeholders, we target our attention to companies we can influence. These injustices are mainly at the control of government, which is even harder to influence, especially foreign ones.
Just a thought,