When we think of child labor, many people envision children working in coal mines or textile mills during the Industrial Revolution of the twentieth century. Most people erroneously believe that child labor in sweatshops has been eradicated. However, this is not the case. Around the world, and even in America, children are laboring under grueling conditions for little pay. What can be done to make sure that the products you buy are not being produced by children? What about families in Third World countries who are dependent on the income their children provide to help them all survive?
If the welfare of the children is the actual end result that is looked for, then a nation's internal labor law changes are the only reasonable starting place. Children now, as in the era of Western industrialization, are sent to work to help support the family. It has always been this way on farms, or so our historians and anthropologists tell us, and the principle of child labor continued into the much more hazardous and grueling industrial era.
What ended child labor in this country were laws (legislated morality) prohibiting it that were enforced along with laws providing decent adult wages, labor conditions and work hours.
There is no reason to think that the solution to child labor in other countries will be brought about any differently: the countries with laboring children must make comparable legislated moral changes to their labor and wage laws. If, on the other hand, the objective is ease for the Western conscience, it is simply a matter of not purchasing items imported from countries with known child labor markets.
The obvious solution is to research the stores and products you use. However, the problem is more complex than that. As long as there is inequality, there will be this issue. Sometimes those children NEED to work, because their family depends on it.
Preventing global child labor is most definitely a difficult task and any solutions that have been presented so far have actually only made matters worse. Author Benjamin Seghers of St. Cloud State University points out that when Senator Harkin initiated the Child Labor Deterrence Act in 1992 countries certainly began laying off their child laborers out of fear that their import markets would be crushed. Bangladesh laid off about 50,000 child laborers. The well-intentioned law decreed the prohibition of any imported products that have been made by child laborers with the promise of "civil and criminal penalties for violators." However, Seghers further points out that the unfortunate end result of the well-intentioned bill was to drive all of these 50,000 children into underground markets. The children now had to work in "unregistered garment factories" and were even forced to go into child prostitution and the slave trade. Hence, I agree completely with Seghers that banning child labor and even banning purchasing imported products made by children is actually not the answer.
Furthermore, it has been well known for a long time that Niki products are made in sweatshops, but there have not been any drastic declines in Niki sales. Hence, even properly labeling products as made in sweatshops will actually not have as big of an impact as the more morally conscientious population would hope.
Seghers further points out that one of the only real solutions is to fix the problems poor countries face that force them to send their children into the labor force. I agree with Seghers' argument that we need to solve the problem of world poverty and improve social conditions in third world countries in order to begin to solve the child labor issue.
I definitely believe that consumer awareness is the first necessary step to putting an end to child labor. I agree with the post above that more manufacturers and retailers need to advertise their commitment to fair trade. Just as many companies have advertised themselves as being 'green,' a push should also be made for advertisers to declare themselves as being supporters of fair trade. Many do already, and the Fair Trade Federation has an extensive listing of retailers and manufacturers who support fair trade practices. You can even look up stores in your own local area. For example, I noticed yesterday that Ben & Jerry's has a display in their store about their commitment to fair trade practices.
Public awareness must be raised in order for 'fair trade' to matter more to consumers and producers. In many ways the child labor dilemma all comes down to supply and demand. If consumers begin to demand for companies to uphold fair trade practices and support the companies that do, other companies will follow suit in order to remain competitive in the market. In many ways, the child labor issue is like the environmental concerns with manufacturing. When public demand increased for 'greener' companies, many companies not only changed their policies to be more eco-friendly, but also spent millions of advertising dollars to ensure that the public was aware of their commitment to environment. Fair trade and ending child labor could benefit in exactly the same way, but the most important factor is consumer commitment and a demand for more fair trade.
As consumers, we often vote with our pocketbooks. If you are against child labor, then do not purchase products created by such a work force. Sometimes it is difficult to tell which products have been created by a child labor force and which have not. A little research can sometimes help determine the answer. Shopping at local stores and reputable outlets can also help support the fight against child labor. As for the money that children bring to their families, that is a difficult questions to answer. One idea might be to purchase from fair trade organizations. In the US, many organization certify fair trade goods. One of the benefits to fair trade is that adults are paid appropriate wages for their goods and services. This means their children do not have to work to help support the family because the parents are able to make an appropriate living.
If you are willing to pay more to buy products that are not produced using exploitative child labor, then do it and spread the word. We aren't going to be able to make much progress in changing other country's policies.
Perhaps we could make a bigger deal about which products are produced this way and raise public awareness. That might help some.