Child Labor: Beneficial in Some Circumstances?

Discussion in 'Politics' started by Mind Over Matter, Dec 26, 2010.

  1. Mind Over Matter Registered Senior Member

    HERE you will find a report compiled by the US Department of Labor about child and forced labor around the World.

    I remember when I was in college we had an interesting discussion about child labor. Someone rightly pointed out a few things:

    **We also have child labor, as in kids working on family farms, often doing long hours and some of the most dangerous work there is.

    **Some of the facilities in which the 13-year-olds work offer living conditions superior to their homes: showers, adequate food, warm enough.

    **Many of the child labor examples are in countries where children would work anyway, if not in those facilities than in some other capacity.

    Not to say it's right, it just isn't such a simple thing as to make a blanket statement "Child labor is wrong."

    You can share your experiences or observations on the subject.
    But the point is, we profit from these abuses.
    Last edited: Dec 28, 2010
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  3. hypewaders Save Changes Registered Senior Member


    Child labor is wrong, and a waste of human potential: Where kids don't experience a childhood with abundant nurturing and play, they and their societies are much injured. Childhood chores and part-time responsibilities (as opposed to full-time and over-time forced earning in place of learning) are a completely different matter. I think we should be clear about terms and concepts of child labor here. Child laborers are profoundly-oppressed victims, who are deprived of the irreplaceable opportunity to develop their mental, emotional, and often physical potentials during a crucial formative time in their lives.

    That is a very important point. I think that we who were raised comfortably, were blessed with many opportunities, and have not been so exploited tend to be woefully unaware- far too often careless in our consumer habits, and we often unwittingly enable child labor by financially supporting oppressors of children.

    Here's a source for current information pertaining to CL, including sources of consumer goods to avoid: : Child Labor

    Dept of Labor: List of Goods Produced By Child or Forced Labor -same as what Mind Over Matter linked above, but browser-friendly (still, it's very long).

    Huffington Post: 13 Products Most Likely to [have been] Made by Child or Forced Labor- Gold, cotton, sugarcane, tobacco, bricks, coffee, beef, rice, garments, diamonds, coal, cocoa, and carpets.

    Last but not least (please check this out, and be prepared to make some changes):
    Last edited: Dec 28, 2010
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  5. Tiassa Let us not launch the boat ... Staff Member

    Thank God for Exploitation, and Other Notes

    In the 1990s, a celebrity child-labor scandal erupted when television host Kathy Lee's signature clothing line was exposed for using Nepalese child labor.

    At the time a capitalist and conservative I knew argued that the children "should be thankful to have a job and help support their families".

    The question of child labor chases after the heart of our social priorities. Back then, my question was, "Why aren't those kids in school?" And the answer is simple enough: Exploitative labor practices don't pay the parents enough to support a school system; they don't even pay the parents enough to support the household. Thus, the child is called on to help support the family.

    Without this labor, our eighty-dollar Nepalese cotton shirts from the department store would cost two-hundred. The ten-dollar pack of really rather fashionable underwear would cost thirty dollars. (American women are accustomed to paying ridiculous prices for underwear, but it's a statistically unusual phenomenon among men.)

    If we look around and consider such labor and socioeconomic/political situations around the world, there is a striking correlation. My hand towels in the bathroom, bought cheap at one or another Kroger store, were made in Pakistan.

    Are we willing to do without hand towels at three for five dollars? Will American men really pay twenty bucks a pop for their underwear? How about thirty dollars a pound for coffee?

    There's been a war in Nepal for a long time now, including such atrocities as each side skinning the other alive. Honduras, where my underwear is made, endured a coup last year, and depends on US remittances for 22% of its economic activity. Pakistan, whence come my towels, is near to chaos.

    According to the DoL report, the excellent Guatemalan coffee I just enjoyed a couple months ago likely involved child labor. Nepalese textiles? Indeed.

    But when we look at the need for and benefits of child labor—

    —we must also address the question of why things are the way they are.

    The labor market is driven by demand. And, presently, the consumer demands goods at such prices, and the company executives demand such pay, as to require child labor.

    The United States is perhaps the driving force of the consumer market. No matter how much we talk about "liberty and justice for all", or praise the ideas of peace and prosperity, the reality is that we don't actually want these things. Presently, our priorities are such that the outcomes of such ideas are undesirable to the vast majority of American consumers.

    Superior living conditions compared to home? Why? Should we presume that the adult laborers in these countries are so myopic, greedy, and lazy that they don't even want showers for themselves? They don't want adequate food? Don't want heat in the winter?

    Hardly. The reality is that these adult laborers aren't paid enough to afford these things. They can't afford taxation for a decent public school system. So they send their kids to madrassas to learn, or to factories to work.

    Children would work, anyway? Why? Are there simply not enough willing, able-bodied adult laborers in these countries? Well, perhaps that depends on if there's a war going on or not. However, the reality is that consumers won't pay for such products if they reflect the costs of a proper, livable wage.

    Indeed, we do.

    Douglas Spaulding (Dandelion Wine) wanted a pair of neat-o shoes. But he didn't have the money for them. So he struck a deal with the shoe store owner to earn those nifty shoes. And, over time, he pulled it off.

    Or we Americans send our kids out to clean the garage, mow the lawn, or haul the trash out to the curb.

    I think there is a tremendous difference between this and putting a kid in a factory, mine, workshop, &c., as a regular laborer.

    My own father tried—and failed—to instill in me a work ethic that would keep me out of, say, union factory jobs. Rather, he wanted me to have the opportunity to be part of management, to be one whose job it is to thrive off the exploitation of labor. And he had no problem with the idea of child labor.

    That is, someone else's kid working for pennies an hour in dangerous conditions was fine, but he didn't want his own kid working for a good wage and benefits if it meant mindless shop or factory labor.

    And, yes, in theory, if we built the equipment correctly, there are still schools in the area whose gymnasiums include some of my handiwork from age 13. Wall padding, basketball backboard braces, even holes in the floor for gymnastic and volleyball standards. Hell, I saw some of my dad's old work at my kid's school, though I had nothing to do with that particular product.

    I'm just of the opinion that if your business requires child labor—at any point in its structure—you're running it wrong.

    Which standards, then, do we acknowledge? The standard of the marketplace—immediate and tangible—that demands child labor? Or the standard of our idyll—distant and amorphous—that looks all the way to the fact of species itself in seeking definitions of right and wrong?

    Child labor might well suit the immediate marketplace, but it wounds the future generations of our species and prolongs the iniquity and suffering that drives the most apparent of our human atrocities.

    True, a blanket statement that child labor is always wrong is suspect. But it is a far cry from mowing the damn lawn or cleaning the unholy mess in the garage to what the DoL report describes.

    Who among us would send our kids to mine zinc in Bolivia, gold in Burkina Faso, or coal in China? Of course we wouldn't: We enjoy better opportunities for our children here in the U.S., in part because there are children around the world to do such work for us, so our own children don't have to.

    As a purely market-oriented question, child labor is good in much the same way slave labor is good. As a human question, though—one pertaining not only, or even primarily, to sentiment, but, rather, species—there is very little to be said on behalf of such exploitative market demands.

    Child labor may get us through the night, but it does nothing to help us forward.


    Central Intelligence Agency. "Honduras". The World Factbook. 2010. December 28, 2010.

    United States Department of Labor. U.S. Department of Labor's List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor. December 15, 2010. December 28, 2010.
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  7. iceaura Valued Senior Member

    The child labor equilibrium of low paid low skilled inefficiency, everybody exploited, is usually only one of the possible market eqs in a given situation.

    Usually another equilibrium of higher productivity educational investment in children, is available nearby - requiring coercion or other radical imposed change from outside, of course, but comprehensible and visible to the wise even within the status quo - and this makes the assignment of guilt to outside and distant exploiters problematical and complicated. The US could probably get coffee, underwear, etc, into its stores at only marginally higher prices, at these other equilibriums.

    Child labor is not, in other words, necessary for anyone's prosperity or even satisfactory price levels.
  8. Carcano Valued Senior Member

    Who says working several hours a day deprives any child of abundant nuturing and play? Or even an adult?

    Children have worked for thousands of years...including in my own case, primarily because it beats the crap out of starving.

    That children under the age of 18 should not work in any primitive tribal society for example would be unthinkable.

    The great industrialist Andrew Carnegie came to America from Scotland and worked as a bobbin boy in a textile mill from the age of 12 and never complained about the experience.

    Feminists like to pretend that women didnt work until they came along in the 1970s but actually, factory owners PREFERRED hiring women and children as far back as the dawn of the industrial revolution.
  9. Carcano Valued Senior Member

    Even adults develop their mental, emotional and physical potentials through WORK...not laying around.
  10. hypewaders Save Changes Registered Senior Member

    The most personal-potential-developing (and fortunate) adults get paid to play (love our work). Child laborers, slaves, and soldiers who have overcome great hardship, injury, and exploitation to become happy and fulfilled people are out there (I've known a few people like that) but it's mostly a terrible waste of potential (often part of a cycle of poverty, despair and aggression) when kids are robbed of most (nearly all in millions of cases) of the happy and essential portions of their childhoods.
  11. Carcano Valued Senior Member

    Work is part of a cycle of opposed to NOT working???
  12. hypewaders Save Changes Registered Senior Member

    Laborers in poverty are commonly trapped in a multi-generational cycle that the privileged world can break, but too often just ignores.
  13. Tiassa Let us not launch the boat ... Staff Member

    Apparently, a fine distinction

    We must account at least somewhat for that phenomenon, lest some people think it's just one of those simple myths like lazy people around the world. As our neighbor notes:

    "Even adults develop their mental, emotional and physical potentials through WORK...not laying around."​

    One wonders at the outlook that ignores the differences. I mean—

    Douglas Spaulding (Dandelion Wine) wanted a pair of neat-o shoes. But he didn't have the money for them. So he struck a deal with the shoe store owner to earn those nifty shoes. And, over time, he pulled it off.

    Or we Americans send our kids out to clean the garage, mow the lawn, or haul the trash out to the curb.

    I think there is a tremendous difference between this and putting a kid in a factory, mine, workshop, &c., as a regular laborer.​

    —it's not like anyone already mentioned that difference, right?

    In the United States, when children develop a work ethic through work, and not laying around, they are often doing all sorts of things that help prepare them for the privileged world. Indeed, you can periodically hear stories on NPR about the troubles of middle-class children who "don't have time to be children"—e.g., school, piano lessons, karate lessons, one sibling's soccer game on Saturday, the other's swim meet on Sunday. Parents schedule "play dates", sometimes weeks in advance, in order to fit the event into the child's busy character- and ethic-building schedule.

    In some places in the world, children develop a work ethic on the job, working long days under dubious conditions for crummy pay. While the privileged children learn skills to help them transcend that sort of labor, the not-so-privileged children might just be at the beginning of a long career working under such conditions, to the point that while the privileged can expect to live to seventy or eighty, the rest are suspicious of hoping for anything beyond sixty.

    How would little Joey's trumpet lessons go over if he lost two fingers on his right hand sorting stones at a mine?

    It's not that we would reject outright the suggestion of learning a work ethic from work, but, rather, the idea that mowing the lawn at age thirteen, or working in a McDonald's at 18 is in any way comparable to pulling a twelve-hour day in the mine or factory at age 9.

    I would posit that, given a choice, most Americans who defend child labor would not subject their children to such circumstances.

    I mean, if I see my kid all covered in clay or flour or whatever, it's kind of cute. Daddy chuckles, asks her what she's been up to, and helps her clean up.

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    Image via U.S. Dept. of Labor

    That is, I don't pause to reflect on what a hard day she must have had working to support the family.

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    Image via U.S. Dept. of Labor

    And while many of us might relish hanging around in our underwear, most would not choose to go to work in such attire. Nor would we choose to send our children out to work an assembly line in their underwear.

    Some people, when they see small children running around in their underwear, might shrug and think it's cute, or harmless, or whatever. Some might fret about sin, or sexual psychology. Few among my American neighbors, though, would see a young boy in a dirty undershirt and red underpants and think, "Well, he must be on his way to work the assembly line. Gotta bring home the bacon. Attaboy, Johnny!"

    I would only reiterate that those who advocate the use of children in commercial labor, and offer justifications including the development of a work ethic are painfully amiss.

    You are correct, sir, that the privileged world can help break this cycle, but it's more a matter of necessity. We already complain about paying too much for our Starbucks' coffee. Imagine if, on top of satisfying investors and paying executives, we paid the people who actually pick the coffee a fair wage? That four-dollar mochaccino just hit six or seven dollars at least. If we are ignoring the problem, it is willful and at least somewhat malicious.

    It's hard to tell whether people really believe that child labor in the third world is the equivalent of building character and work ethic, or if they're so sincerely sold to that cruel con job that it doesn't occur to them that other people see through it.
  14. joepistole Deacon Blues Valued Senior Member

    We in the US allow child labor but it is very controlled. I think the issue here is one of degree. There is nothing wrong with a child earning a few dollars here and there doing occasional odd jobs. And it is not uncommon in the US to find teenagers holding down part time jobs to support their social agenda. But the focus of childhood should be on learning and improving social and intellectual skills and growing up to become a well balanced individual.
  15. S.A.M. uniquely dreadful Valued Senior Member

    It beats both starvation and child prostitution, not to mention mutilation for the purposes of begging.
  16. hypewaders Save Changes Registered Senior Member

    Indee... uh (on second thought) nice rationalization, Sam. Something horrible is better than something worse. Does this really make it necessary, or the only alternative to the worst?
  17. S.A.M. uniquely dreadful Valued Senior Member

    People have to eat. Unless poverty and unemployment is eliminated its pointless to bemoan child labour. There are 60-100 million children employed in labour in India. There are 1.5 million children trafficked for slavery abroad and about 6 million children engaged in prostitution. There are over 300,000 child beggars [which is probably a vastly underestimated figure]

    For example:

    vs this:

    These are children with poor opportunities for education, children of labourers who move from rural to urban areas either due to extreme poverty or displacement due to government projects [an estimated 50 million people have been displaced by dams alone in India] - they are children of farmers who have lost their lands or become bankrupt, they are children of untouchables who have left their homes due to persecution or tribals who have lost their homes due to deforestation or reassignment of forested lands. Or they are simply children of tribes whose occupations have become defunct. They have little or no education due to their unsettled lives

    What do you think will happen to the 100 million children if the ban on child labour is enforced? If not starvation or prostitution, what are the alternatives for all these children?
    Last edited: Dec 29, 2010
  18. Tiassa Let us not launch the boat ... Staff Member

    Idyll and Practice, Necessity and Choice

    We're moving closer to the fundamental heart of the issue.

    Seven billion people in the world.

    Seventy trillion dollars in the world.

    Ten thousand dollars apiece.

    Obviously, that's an estimation, but here's the thing: In order for Americans to fight over tax breaks above $250,000 a year, we need people somewhere in the world to live in relative poverty.

    We, the People, choose necessity.

    Ideally, you have a point. Practically speaking, though, S.A.M. scores that point.

    Idyll vs. Practice. That's the heart of the argument, as I see it.

    If we only had ten thousand dollars apiece, the rent on my last apartment wouldn't have been fourteen thousand dollars a year. If we only had ten thousand dollars apiece, the two hundred dollar deposit charged low-income people by our local Public Utilities District in order to spare the rich a few dollars a year on their rates would seem genuinely outrageous. If we only had ten thousand dollars apiece, the idea of the RIAA suing a college student for a half-million dollars over some downloaded songs would get laughed out of court. If we only had ten thousand dollars apiece, fifty bucks for a concert t-shirt wouldn't fly.

    But that's not practical. Money, in the end, is nothing more than an organizational scheme; it determines who is allotted what of our resources. I don't protest people having money, but in the United States we're just starting to suffer the dire consequences of such excess. Trust me, if I can finish a project and wrench a big check out of a publisher or film producer, I'll be happy to have it. But I'm not about to go out and lie, cheat, and steal to get it. Hell, if I wanted to do that, I could sell drugs.

    But because some rich guy needs another vacation home, some poor American will be foreclosed or evicted. And beyond that, some kid in the third world will sew our underwear, or haul our coffee, or mine our diamonds and gold.

    It's true that child labor, as such, beats starvation and child prostitution, but the only necessity for such an outcome is one that we choose.

    And I believe those choices, those priorities, are what need to be resolved.
  19. hypewaders Save Changes Registered Senior Member

    I don't think the heart of the issue is purely monetary (not to characterize what you said that way Tiassa). In other words along the clichéd line of "give a fish/teach to fish" educational and vocational reforms (as opposed to emergency food programs) are not merely about distribution of money, but also distribution of information- not just agricultural and vocational, but also sociopolitical.

    Resolving the priorities you mention happens from both ends of the spectrum of wealth. Yes, the privileged classes can compassionately change priorities out of compassion and understanding of human connectedness in economics and security. But also at the other end of the "food chain" (which is not really a chain in this case) hungry people can organize to challenge the priorities too. That is, human rights organizing and empowerment among the exploited and the hungry can also change things.

    All change is not really top-down in terms of socioeconomics, although elites go to great (even violent) extremes to convince us all that money and the wealthy are supreme.
  20. cosmictraveler Be kind to yourself always. Valued Senior Member

    The only real way to stop this from happening is to have fewer children born. Birth control implants that cost little can be given away to those families that need them and that want to limit their families growth.
  21. Mind Over Matter Registered Senior Member

    The problem is by framing the issue as 'Well, child labor is better then child prostitution' you're deflecting attention from the problem of child labor since you're making it the 'moral' choice. :shrug:
  22. S.A.M. uniquely dreadful Valued Senior Member

    No I'm not at all concerned with the morality of it. I've seen these children almost everyday in India. And I personally know how difficult life is for them because my mother was one of these children, she started supporting her family after her fathers death when she was a very young child. So when I say it beats starvation and child prostitution, I know exactly what I mean. There are other options, like marriage to a much older man for girls and I know women who have made those choices as well [or had people make those choices for them]. I'm a pragmatist. I agree that child labour is not the ideal choice for a child, but if you are going to take away what is a source of survival rations for the child, you better have something else available before you do that. My mother was saved by the nursing profession. Thats not an option open today to young girls without a high school degree - so when people talk about banning child labour I try to imagine my mothers life without the option of work available to survive. And its not a pretty picture
  23. hypewaders Save Changes Registered Senior Member

    With that in mind (your family's experience too) and reading about some initiatives in India such as:

    Say, if Article 24 of the Indian constitution were thoroughly enforced:

    I'd like to learn more about the unintended negative consequences you suggest of aid, activism, and legislative initiatives in India. Do you have any examples?

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