Child Labour: A Sacrifice For Our Materialistic Needs?

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Child labour is a vicious evil that should have, without doubt, been eradicated many moons ago. The hardest task I faced as a 14 year old was emptying the cutlery section of the dishwasher on sporadic mornings, usually when I felt guilty for ‘treating the house like a hotel’. Some children at this age are forced into tremendously long hours of hard and gruelling labour, where they can be treated cruelly, paid unfairly and stripped of their most sacred possession; their childhood. Would it make you squirm to know that a hefty portion of the world’s largest corporations, still in this day and age are able to get away with the abhorrent practice of child labour?

 Now, lets start with the big boys:

1.        Apple: the American multinational corporation that sells electronic prosperity to the masses, was recently found guilty of employing 74 children under the age of 16 in a Chinese company.

2.        Primark: A 2008 investigation uncovered the squalid conditions within Indian sweatshops where 11-year-old children were employed, and found sewing sequins onto cheap t-shirts by candlelight. Low cost clothes come at a high price for these children.     

3.        Nike, the multimillion dollar sportswear company have reportedly employed children as young as 10 producing shoes, clothing and footballs in Pakistan and Cambodia.  

4.        Victoria’s Secret? Child labour, apparently. Describing itself as "one of the most powerful, sexy and glamorous stores in the world”, the cotton in some underwear has been sourced from the fields of Burkino Faso, where 12-year-old children have been found labouring. Not so sexy now.

Can we eliminate child labour? Or is it a distant ambition, which ebbs further away with each iPhone, Primark onesie or pair of Nike trainers that get snapped up by our grubby, consumerist mitts?  I’m aware of the hypocrisy as I write this on my MacBook Pro. I didn’t offer a single thought for its creation, or rather for the possibility that a child, with all their innocence, may have been exploited in a distant, ‘developing’ country in order for me to play Candy Crush (Every. Single. Day). If I had, would it have made me think again? Perhaps, but more than likely the guilty sensation felt in my stomach would have been short-lived. There’s something wrong here, embedded within the western psyche, where our insatiable hunger for innovative technology and material goods sends our moral compasses into turmoil. 

Naming and shaming these unscrupulous companies is all well and good, but what use is awareness if it isn’t acted upon? Whilst there are organisations fighting to stop child labour, what can WE realistically do about a devastating situation that we have no control over? It might be fanciful to believe that by simply opting out of buying these products, the villainous nature of said big brands might change; that they’ll discontinue to bash these products out faster than you can say ‘sweatshop’. Whether boycotting these big brands will have any real impact upon the elimination of child labour, or whether it will just work to sooth our guilt-ridden consciences is a question I don’t know the answer to, but it’s certainly something that’s worth more than just a second thought.

Deborah Todd

Currently muddling my way through student life.

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