Today, an estimated 250 million children are working worldwide,
making it one of the most serious global issues.
Child labor occurs when "people under fifteen years of age are
forced to be employed because their parents either cannot work or
do not make enough money to support their families on their own"
(Ennis). It is not chores that children do before or after school.
Child labor stops children from attending school and makes them work
in dangerous conditions that may hurt them physically, emotionally,
or mentally (Ennis). The International Labor Organization (ILO)
estimates there are about 250 million child workers aged between 5
and 14 years old. At least 120 million are working full-time.
The majority are in Asia (61%), followed by Africa (32%) and Latin
America (7%) (“Tainted Harvest”). While the U.S. economy rules the
global market, these children in various industries might be the ones
who produced the clothes you are wearing, the shoes you are walking in,
the rugs you are stepping on, and the foods you are eating.
As consumers who live in the nation that controls the global economy,
we hold both the responsibility and the power to eliminate child labor
in developing countries.
Taking a look at banana plantations in Ecuador illustrates how
the United States is part of the perpetuated torture and injustice
of child labor. According to U.S. and U.N. figures, 25 percent of
the bananas we ate last year came from Ecuador, where bananas are the
second major exporting industry. Some very familiar companies import
bananas from Ecuador; Dole gets 31 percent of bananas from Ecuador, Del Monte 13 percent, and Chiquita 7 percent (Frank). Bananas we eat could be “made in child labor” in Ecuador, where the U.S. food companies are benefiting from the cheap labor force, and the brutality of child labor is ignored. The reason why Ecuadorian people use child labor on the banana plantations is quite simple. The workers earn very little “in part because the wholesalers and retailers abroad reap most of the profits, particularly with the recent consolidation of huge retail outlets like Wal-Mart and Costco” (Forero). Exporters purchase each 43-pound box of bananas for $2 or $3, which are sold for $25 in the United States or Europe (Forero).” The Ecuadorian workers make 12 cents on the dollar. One of the workers said, "These big chains say, 'we will buy your bananas off the boat, but at our price’” (Forero). When adult workers can make only US $5.44 on average per day, families cannot survive without sending children to plantations to bring extra money home. In Ecuador, child workers in the
banana sector typically start working at ages ten or eleven, while
some begin as early as age eight. Some work only five hours a day,
but the vast majority work between nine and thirteen hours, earning
only US $3.50 a day (Forero).
Child labor is an injustice that has a number of detrimental
effects on children. The worst part is that it impairs the physical
and mental development of children. In addition to the fact that the
majority of child workers cannot attend school, they often have to
work under horrible conditions. “Children are forced to work long
hours,” says Bogda, “often in dangerous and unhealthy conditions,
[and] are exposed to lasting physical and psychological harm.” For
example, “children who work at looms have been left disabled with eye
damage, lung disease, stunted growth, and a susceptibility to
arthritis, as they grow older. These children have been denied
education, a normal childhood, and some even freedom of movement”
(Bogda). In another instance, agricultural child workers, who are
70% of all the child workers in the world, are exposed to pesticides
that cause various health problems. A report by Human Rights Watch
states, “in Ecuador, Egypt and the United States, children reported
working in freshly sprayed fields, and even working in fields while
they were being sprayed.” Those children experience various symptoms
such as headaches, fever, nausea, and rashes, which could lead to more
serious consequences, such as convulsions, coma, cancer, brain damage,
sterility, birth defects, and death. Those children are not aware of
the dangers of pesticides, nor do they know how to protect themselves
(“Tainted Harvest”). Child workers also face the threat of sexual
harassment by their supervisors. In an interview with Human Rights
Watch, a twelve-year-old girl reported that her male supervisors
regularly make sexually harassing remarks or touch the breasts and
buttocks of girls (“Tainted Harvest”).
While the injustice against children persists, it is the reality
that our wealth, the ample products lined on U.S. store shelves, is
partly sustained by child labor. Food companies are not the only
ones who are benefiting from child labor. A number of major U.S.
companies, such as Nike, The GAP, Nordstrom, The Limited, Wal-Mart,
Kmart, Walt Disney Company, Ralph Lauren, and J.C. Penney all use
child labor in the developing countries (Forbes). As U.S. companies
expand their business to the world seeking cheap labor, any product
you purchase in a store could involve child labor in other countries.
And when we purchase products that are made with child labor, we
become a part of the vicious economic circle. We, as consumers, are
also responsible for the injustice.
There are things, however, we can do as consumers to reduce
child labor. While use of child labor still continues, there are
some U.S. companies that make conscious efforts to create better
working conditions for workers in developing countries.
In cooperation with CARE, one of the world's largest private
non-profit organizations, Starbucks Coffee Company has helped
people in coffee and tea-origin countries improve the quality of
life in their communities, investing $120,000 in CARE for ongoing
programs (“Care”). Starbucks also donates $100,000 annually to CARE
as a fund to ensure immediate support in a crisis. When natural
disaster strikes those countries, the fund supports relief efforts
to provide shelter, food, medicines, and safe drinking water to
victims (“Care”). Starbucks also sells “fair trade certified
coffee” that ensures “farmers who grew the coffee received a
premium price above the prevailing market prices,” which helps
them have a better quality of life (“Fair Trade”). The Body Shop
is also promoting fair trade with local suppliers, building
relationships based on respect and trust. Their homepage says,
“fair prices help producers to feed, clothe and educate their families
and allow money to go back in to the community to supply basic needs
such as water, health, and education” (“Support”). The Body
Shop “believes that big business has a huge responsibility to use
trade not just to make money but also to have a positive influence
in the world” (Support). We can contribute to fair trade and the
improvement of communities by supporting and purchasing products
made by companies like Starbucks and The Body Shop. It is a question
of ethics rather than business, and we should demand other companies
to do morally responsible business. It can make a tremendous
difference in lives of children around the world if each company
enforces this kind of policy as the norm of their business.
There are 250 million children who work under harsh environment
every single day. As consumers, we have the power to demand companies
to use non-exploitative, fair business methods in the developing
countries, so that parents can earn enough to support their children.
Starbucks and The Body Shop have a significantly positive image due
to their business policies that enforce fairness and respect.
Since public image has a major impact on sales of products, all
companies strive to create the most effective public images.
Consumers need to take a strong attitude against “made-in-child-labor”
products, so that it becomes beneficial for companies to enforce fair
and supportive business policies. It is an indisputable truth in
this U.S.-ruled global economy that how you spend money can literally
affect the lives of people all around the world. As consumers in the
nation with huge economic power, it is imperative for us to be aware
of the origins of products and our wealth, and become responsible,
wise consumers to fight against child labor.
Bogda, Jared. “The Unjust Labor of Children Throughout the World.
” Immaculata High School Child Slave Labor News. 10/24/02
“Care.” Starbucks Coffee Company. 10/24/02 < http://www.starbucks.com>
Ennis, Kelly. “Prevention of Child Slave Labor.” 10/24/02. Immaculata High School Child Slave Labor News. http://www.geocities.com/cslnews/
“Fair Trade Certified Coffee.” Starbucks Coffee Company. 10/24/02 http://www.starbucks.com Forbes, Michael.
“Wal-Mart+ Nike=Slavery.” Immaculata High School Child Slave Labor News. 10/24/02 http://www.geocities.com/cslnews/
Forero, Juan. “On the backs of children: Our food, their fate.” NY Times. 28 July, 2002 Sunday Final Edition.
Frank, Dana. “Our Fruit, Their labor and Global Reality.” The Washington Post 02 June, 2002, Sunday, Final Edition.
“Support Community Trade.” The Body Shop. 10/24/02 http://www.usa.thebodyshop.com
“Tainted Harvest- Child Labor and Obstacles to Organizing on Ecuador’s Banana Plantations.” Human Rights Watch. NY. April 2002. 10/24/02
Sachi Sekimoto All Rights Reserved 2002