Have you ever wondered who sewed your clothes (by the way, in terrible conditions) or harvested plants that were used to produce your food? The answer is, in many cases, children.
Child labour is a still relevant problem of contemporary global political economy, what can be proved by data of UNICEF, the ILO and the World Bank indicate that 168 million children aged 5 to 17 are engaged in child labour (unicef.org). According to International Labour Organization (ilo.org), it can be defined as “work that deprives children of their childhood, their potential and their dignity, and that is harmful to physical and mental development”. In other words, it is the work that children should not do because they are too young, or it is too dangerous for them.
ILO, when trying to fight against the child labour phenomenon, has adopted many Conventions, inter alia, Convention No. 182 on the worst forms of child labour or Convention No. 183 on the minimum age for admission to employment and work, which are the most fundamental. They helped to focus the international spotlight, for example, “on the urgency of action to eliminate as a priority, the worst forms of child labour without losing the long term goal of the effective elimination of all child labour” (ilo.org).
The beginnings of child labour can be seen with the period of Industrial Revolution. In 19th century Britain, it was beneficial for factories to employ children or women (O’Brien, 2013: 67). They worked for a few times smaller salary, which was at the same time generating additional profits for the factories.
There are many forms of child labour, such as agricultural labour, work in mining, manufacturing or scavenging. There are also cases where children are ‘engaged’ in illicit activities like drug trafficking and organized begging. Therefore, in some parts of the globe, it is not even a little strange thing, when someone sees a child working long hours in heat on a farm. In the graph below, it can be seen, how does it look like in numbers.
And how it is shaped across the world? The ‘winner’ is Asia and the Pacific with almost 78 million exploited child population, and right behind there is Sub-Saharan Africa with the number of 59 million children. The situation in Latin America is quite better, because there are 13 million of children in child labour, and in the Middle East and North Africa the number is 9,2 million (ilo.org). These statistics only strengthen the view, that child labour is one of the biggest issues of today’s political economy.
Therefore, what are the causes of these bad-impression-making numbers? When only basing on them, it could be said that poverty is one of the factors which are causing the problem of exploitation of children. The parts of the world which are mentioned above are considered as the poorest ones. Moreover, barriers to education are also one of the causes, because of the fact, that schools are not available in lots of world’s areas, especially rural. When parents cannot afford to send their children to school, or the education is not relevant for them – then, they send them to work with a view that it could be better for them. Another reason for the exploitation are culture and tradition, because in some countries children are expected to help parents and work in the age of 5 or 7 is considered as a common thing (un.org). And there is still the market demand factor.
Child labour is such an easy way for entrepreneurs. In this cruelty, they see only benefits – children are cheaper than standard workers, since they work almost for free. It is nothing, that such an exploitation harms their health and deprives a better future just right from the start, because of the fact that children go to work rather than to school.
In Joe Sandler Clarke’s article, we can see perfect example of this. In the period from September to December 2014, researchers from Fair Labour Association (FLA) visited 260 cocoa farms used by the company in Ivory Coast. They found 56 workers under the age of 18, when 27 of which were under 15. They found also an evidence of forced labour, with a young worker who has been not receiving any salary for a year’s work. All of these farms are connected to the big corporation, which can be seen as one of the wealthiest in the global market (Sandler Clarke, 2015).
There is one question that comes to mind because of this, didn’t the people managing these farms and corporations have childhood as well?
The solution to this may be pressing companies to take some actions against child labour or engage the governments in fight against this problem. But at this moment, it cannot be stated if this would help, because this is like a puzzle, but not the simply one.
- O’Brien, R. & Williams, M. (2013) Global Political Economy. (4th ed.). Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan. Pp: 67.
- Sandler Clarke, J. (2015) ‘Child labour on Nestlé farms: chocolate giant’s problems continue’. The Guardian. [Online]. 2 September. Available from: http://www.theguardian.com/global-development-professionals-network/2015/sep/02/child-labour-on-nestle-farms-chocolate-giants-problems-continue [Accessed 17 December 2015].
- International Labour Organization. ‘Child Labour. Facts and Figures’. [Online]. Available from: http://www.ilo.org/global/topics/child-labour/lang–en/index.htm [Accessed 17 December 2015]
- International Labour Organization. ‘ILO Conventions and Recommendations on child labour’. [Online] Available from: http://www.ilo.org/ipec/facts/ILOconventionsonchildlabour/lang–en/index.htm [Accessed 17 December 2015].
- International Labour Organization. ‘What is child labour’. [Online]. Available from: http://www.ilo.org/ipec/facts/lang–en/index.htm [Accessed 17 December 2015].
- The United Nations. ‘Child Labour. Overview’. [Online] Available from: http://www.un.org/en/globalissues/briefingpapers/childlabour/ [Accessed 17 December 2015].
- UNICEF, ‘Child Labour’. [Online]. Available from: http://www.unicef.org/protection/57929_child_labour.html [Accessed 17 December 2015]