Friday, May 25, 2012

America’s Misconception and Ignorant Proliferation of Global, Child Labor

by S. Paul Forrest

As defined by the International Labour Organization, child labor is “work that deprives children of their childhood, their potential and their dignity and that is harmful to physical and mental development.” In essence, it is a practice that takes from children their childhood present and by proxy, their adult futures. Child Labor is a global plague indicative of a society which is decaying within the fog of moral and ethical loss, leaving children across the world to be forced into slave labor because their families are stricken with poverty and it is he only way for the whole to survive. The destiny these children would otherwise have in a prosperous existence like that which many of us Americans enjoy is all but a dream to them: They live an existence which very few here could ever imagine.

What is driving the demand; enabling this epidemic, are nations such as America, desiring their materialistic luxuries. In the drive to globally compete and provide affordable products to the market, the supply has become dependent upon cheap or even, slave labor which all too often equates to child labor.  Many Americans are either not aware that they are adding to this global scourge with their excess or simply choose to ignore responsibility for it in order to continue to enjoy the resultant products.  

In the rush to eliminate the ravages of child labor here in this nation, instead of sorting out those forms of it which are beneficial, many have, without consideration for the importance of some level work children should perform, the opportunity to learn responsibility and the value of hard work.  We have in our extremist nature, which appears to have come to define all American resolve, expanded the fight against child labor to where any work, including domestic chores and summer time jobs, only helped to reduce our children to mere couch potatoes and video game aficionados.  A child working certain small jobs or performing domestic chores is not the same as actual child labor. The latter is a vastly different animal.  

American Child Labor
Once upon a time in America, actual child labor was prevalent. As reported by, “by 1810, about 2,000,000 school-age children were working 50- to 70-hour weeks. Most of them came from poor families. When parents could not support their children, they sometimes turned them over to a mill or factory owner. One glass factory in Massachusetts was fenced with barbed wire "to keep the young imps inside.”  The popular book written by Charles Dickens, Oliver Twist, told the tale of a child labor system in the 1800’s in England but carried its message here, to America and resounded with many who felt the practice brutal to American children.

Thanks to the efforts of many conscientious people in this Nation, illegal forms of child labor practices have been all but alleviated. The key word in this though, is “illegal”. More exactly, “forced, commercial child labor” should be used instead to distinguish between the normal and abnormal forms of it.  A child working a part time job is not necessarily a bad thing, but when “forced” into labor only for the sake of profit for a commercial entity and kept there without relief or reprise, the issue takes on a different dimension. 

As Americans will often do, the line between these two extremes has been somewhat blurred and the results which mostly stem from fear of legal action, has taken from some children the ability to work for extra money or even, to learn responsibility of work. The rush to be righteous in this anti-labor endeavor may be taking from some children opportunity rather than saving them from harsh labor practices. In Nebraska for example, as reported by Journal Star,

“The state's largest farm organization launched a year-long campaign Thursday against proposed changes to federal safety standards for children working in agriculture.

The Nebraska Farm Bureau Federation chose the state FFA convention in downtown Lincoln as the backdrop for an effort called "Let Me Get My Hands Dirty."

FFA members, including state President Brennan Costello of Gothenburg, and advisers including Anita Wollenberg of Wilber-Clatonia, were among those who stepped forward in support of Farm Bureau concerns about limiting the involvement of those younger than 15 in hands-on agriculture.

Wollenberg said the first proposed changes to safety rules for children from the Department of Labor since the 1970s go too far.

Her students learn by doing, she said.

"They are taking that right and that privilege away from them."

Costello said the rule changes threaten the supervised agricultural experience students get through their schools and the summer money they earn on farms operated by somebody other than their parents.”

Does anyone remember the paper boy or a lemonade stand where children in America tried to not only make extra money but were also participating in the capitalistic opportunities of our Nation? Now, with the zealous overreach of legislative control, a child can’t even work mowing lawns and in even some of the most extreme cases, chores at home are being challenged. In fact, many chores which are an intrinsic part of learning responsibility in a family team are being challenged and considered as child labor.  As reported by The Last Refuge,

“Last year, Department Of Labor  Secretary Hilda Solis proposed rules that would restrict family farm operations by prohibiting youth under the age of 18 from being near certain age animals without adult supervision, participating in common livestock practices such as vaccinating and hoof trimming, and handling most animals more than six months old.  

anyone under the age of 18 would be prohibited from operating farm machinery over 20 PTO horsepower; completing tasks at elevations over six feet high; and working at stockyards and grain and feed facilities. The language of the proposed rule is so specific it would even ban youth from operating a battery-powered screwdriver or a pressurized garden hose

The obvious obstruction between the American mind and the reality of child labor can easily be seen from the reaction to recent statements on the Republican campaign trail. Former Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich had stated that children in schools should be put to work to teach them responsibility. The statements were met with consternation by many who felt he was advocating for cheap labor through children to supplant unionized labor. As he had later explained though, assigning children work duties during school would teach them not only responsibility but by working at their schools, would teach them a sense of pride and ownership for the school environment.

“Most of these schools ought to get rid of the unionized janitors, have one master janitor, and pay local students to take care of the school,” said Gingrich, the former Speaker of The House of Representatives. “The kids would actually do work, they would have cash, they’d have pride in the schools. They’d begin the process of rising.”  Teaching them work ethic as part of their education is a value and necessary to teach them how to function in a normal, responsible, adult role. By completely and extremely negating any form of work for children in the nation, many do not come to understand what work ethic is or the value of money earned until a later time in their lives which could be viewed to be in and of itself, an injustice. We hear reports of obesity and disconnection of children from reality because of electronic media but insist on feeding the problem with continued control by an already over reaching, governmental system.

Not sure about the reader but when this author was growing up, chores were a responsibility to the family unit; not illegal child labor. Scholl work assignments were also required for copy making, kitchen service and clean up in the cafeteria. Was it forced labor, though? Well of course it was, no child likes chores but these labors taught responsibility and a sense of what work was as well as an understanding of what it meant to reap what you sow, how to exert effort to do so and how to participate in the family structure and in school. The new Laws to "protect" children from labor are only serving to increase the already high numbers of lazy, obese ridden children we have now. How sedentary do we need our children to be before the act of "saving them" from labor only forces them into the even worse situation of habitual laziness or ill prepares them for adult responsibility?

America has long been a nation of extremes when it comes to this kind of legislation.  We often try to solve problems with across the board number crunching and no exception administering so as to avoid legal action but in the mean time, the real issue of global child labor continues to be enabled by our insatiable appetites for excessive consumption.  

The Real Problem
Because forced labor or rather, child slavery has been all but abolished in this nation, many Americans believe that child labor or rather, its prevalence around the world is no longer an issue.  Even fewer understand that the pleasures they enjoy from products ranging from chocolate to clothing are all too often manufactured using a child labor and is perpetuating the problem.  This ignorance is partly due to lack of reporting on it by popular, corporate owned media but partly it stems from not wanting to admit they are adding to it by indulging in so many foreign products.

Chocolate is a product enjoyed richly by many Americans.  This sweet result of cocoa beans is indeed a wonderful treat but as UNICEF estimates that nearly a half-million children work on farms across Ivory Coast, which produces nearly 40% of the world’s supply of cocoa. The agency says, hundreds of thousands of children, many of them trafficked across borders are engaged in the worst forms of child labor.  As reported by CNN;

“After a series of news reports surfaced in 2001 about gross violations in the cocoa industry, lawmakers in the United States put immense pressure
on the industry to change.

“We felt like the public ought to know about it, and we ought to take some action to try to stop it,” said Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin, who, together with Rep. Eliot Engel of New York, spearheaded the response. “How many people in America know that all this chocolate they are eating - candies and  all of those wonderful chocolates - is being produced by terrible child labor?”

But after intense lobbying by the cocoa industry, lawmakers weren’t able to push through a law. What they got was a voluntary protocol, signed by the heads of the chocolate industry, to stop the worst forms of child labor “as a matter of urgency.” One of the key goals was to certify the cocoa trade as child-labor free.”
But chocolate is only one of the industries purported to be using child labor to supply the demand of Europeans and Americans.  In India, the garment industry operates with many companies utilizing child labor.  As reported by Ecouterre;

“It is an appalling fact that child labor is still an issue in various countries across the world. Children as young as 10 are subjected to unacceptable work conditions to produce garments for the European and U.S. markets, according to a new report by the Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations (SOMO), a nonprofit based in the Netherlands. Collaboration with the India Committee of the Netherlands, “Captured by Cotton” shines the spotlight on the exploitative Sumangali scheme, a form of bonded labor in India’s garment industry, particularly in the southern state of Tamil Nadu.”

Examples of labor-rights violations include blank or nonexistent contracts, long hours (72 hours per week is the average), forced overtime without compensation, dismal wages, restricted movement, constant monitoring, verbal abuse and precarious work conditions without protective gear.

Although their wages, which generally start at 60 rupees ($1.30) per day, are docked to save up for the lump sum payment, many workers never make it to the three-year mark, according to SOMO. “Many fall sick due to the unhealthy and unsafe working conditions, poor food and general lack of hygiene,” states the report.”

American consumers may not know of these atrocities so they cannot completely be blamed for propagating them.  After all, the corporate owned news stations do not report on them so how could they know.  Many, when seeing the products in a store, can only assume the labors laws in America apply everywhere so they buy the goods without thought of the travesty though which they came to the marketplace. The blame should solely be put on the corporations and the Federal Trade Commission which allow these products into our stores without sanctions or attempts to quell the problem. 

The Solution
The reason most here in America are so ignorant matters not to those suffering to make the materials we consume so ravenously in this Nation, though. Those feeding the product supply tainted with child labor, are as guilty as those employing children to produce their goods.  If the desires to criminalize child labor here in America were exercised with conscious effort, the Government would see fit to refuse any imports which utilized child labor to produce them.  Shoppers as well, should research where products are made and track the country of origin’s record on the matter.  A lower price to save a dollar could easily mean a much higher price to those slaving to produce that product.

Simply put, forced child labor is at an all time high around the world, serving only one, true purpose; to produce cheap goods to feed off the Global market in order to garner greater profits.  The increase of this Global pandemic is a reflection of not only the increasing demand for affordable goods in a worsening economy but the sad reality of a lowering of not only concern for those suffering to produce them and the lessening of Global market morals and ethics.  We Americans have always been the leaders in the realm of what freedom stands for, our continued support of those companies that work as an antithesis of freedom for so many, does nothing but deny our basic, National tenet. 

Child labor is not defined as they who have to do the dishes or mow the lawn.  It is not defined as a child who wants to take on a paper route to afford a video game.  It is defined through the exploitation of the poor among us on this Blue Marble who have to suffer only to bring us people living in the richest of nations, a bit of pleasure.  If we are to truly represent freedom and Democracy and stand as the light “Beside the Golden Door”, then we must all take a moment to evaluate how little we practice what we preach.  In order to truly represent freedom, then we must do all we can to end the practices of child labor: The antithesis of it.  Not until then will we truly be a nation that represents what freedom is.

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