Child Labour – An International Conspiracy

The United Nations’ advocacy to combat Child Labour through ‘Conventions of the Rights of the Child’ became universally accepted and ratified by 190 states in less than a decade since its inception in 1989. Regulation of labour issues had been entrusted with the International Labour Organization (ILO) which promoted the eradication of child labour by setting up a minimum age for employment. Child labour, however, has been common since the Victorian era but became apparently rampant since the take-off of industrial revolution. In the eighteenth century, America, the then developing nation had witnessed a deluge of immigrants. The Europeans had obviously capitalforbusiness looked for new lands to propagate business and merchandise and had targeted North and South America (the New World), Caribbean, India and Asia for the same. The Great Migration was also a result of the political upheaval that swept across Europe. The economic state was, in general, appalling.

Children, in the early twentieth century were seen working in factories, mines, quarries, fisheries, agriculture etc. The hazardous working conditions posed numerous health problems, both physical and mental. The percentage of children as workers was as high as sixty percent then. There were many laws that had been formulated at that time to keep a watchful eye on child labour, unfortunately, none of them succeeded. The last decade has seen the mushrooming of many NGOs working towards this social issue especially in Africa, the Indian subcontinent, South East Asia, Latin America, and other developing nations of Eastern Europe and the Pacific.

A common, reasonably aware citizen of any country would not be oblivious of these facts. However, a slight change in perspective shall expound the paradoxical conceptions. The main targets for accusations of child labour would be developing countries. The dangerous conditions in which the children work in these countries have been highlighted time and again by the stalwarts of the world economy who are significant professors of anti-child labour campaign. Small wonder, these developing or under developed countries are also the ones that multinationals from developed countries run to, in search of cheap and unskilled labour; an obvious cost cutting strategy after the shaping up of globalization.

For instance, GAP, an American clothing and accessories retailer, had meticulously launched a social audit system in 2004. In 2009, GAP was again in limelight when its dilapidated industrial units in India were exposed, where children as young as ten years old worked as bonded labourers. This is merely one of the many tragic consequences of the global demand. This obviously threatened the socially ethical image that GAP had been working on and to avoid further commotion the Indian subcontractors were the ones who were put the blame on, of course. As compensation for the social misconduct, the product that was being manufactured was banned for export to the consumers markets. Let’s consider the gems and jewelry market. It is a significant revenue collector for importers in Europe, Britain and America. Would the diamonds that come from the mines of Africa and Asia be banned in the international market of India, Antwerp, Amsterdam, London or New York because of the involvement of child labour? West Africa alone produces sixty percent of the cocoa exported to big timers like Cadbury and Nestle. It, however, cannot be ascertained that the rather complex supply chain of cocoa from its source to these multinational giants does not involve child labour; the high percentage of trafficking of children in West Africa is an irrefutable.

So the question posed here is, whether the developing/ underdeveloped nations can afford banning Child Labour? One major component that ought to be considered is the GDP per capita (purchasing power parity). When the United States of America ratified Massachusetts Law (1842) and Pennsylvania Law (1848), their respective GDP per capita were $ 1,955 and $ 2,095. When Fair Labour Standard Act (1938) was sanctioned, American GDP per capita was $ 7,229. Britain’s GDP per capita at the time of ratification of 1891 Act was $ 4,791. When Japan implemented its First Factory Law in 1916, its GDP per capita was $ 1,848. Likewise, Denmark, Belgium, Germany, Italy and France when implemented their first labour laws against child labour, their GDP per capita was not less than $1,500. The GDP per capita may not be directly proportional to the Human Development Index (HDI) but it definitely reveals a sound monetary makeup with less or no fiscal deficit. Consequently, the standard of living of the people could improve, unemployment may be reduced and hence a country could sustain its economic structure and grow.

The Human Development Report 1997, UNDP, shows the GDP Per Capita of Latin American nations in 1997 with Mexico ($8,370) being the highest and Haiti ($1270) at the lowest. The same in 2007 shows: Mexico ($14140), India ($2753), Botswana ($13604) etc., with Niger ($627) being the lowest. The 1997 data shows that the GDP per capita of these developing nations (excluding Haiti) were much higher than the now developed nations mentioned above, at the time they started taking legal action on child labour issues. The 2007 data shows income in even higher digits.

If the imports of developed nations are reviewed, their major exporters are those countries who are dealing with the issue of child labour. History is evidence enough to confirm the rampancy of child labour in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries in America, Britain France, Germany, and Italy, the countries struggling at the political forefront for a stable economic foundation. They were in no position to eradicate child labour then. And yet, this fact is not considered when developing countries today are facing the same situation. Imports from those nations are banned denying them their only source of foreign income which would gradually build up their economic structure.

Simply banning the goods that involve child labour from these countries would only place them at the competitive disadvantage in the international market. It would only slow down their development and prolong the monopoly of the developed nations who already reap the benefits. The developed countries in this globalized era are in a better position to regulate child labour by enforcing the necessary laws, since it is after all the global demand that the developing countries are responding to by providing cheap labour. Instead of eliminating a source of revenue of poor nations, a much more viable solution would be to restructure the labour market and increase the wages for adult labourers. This could be explained by the simple theory of demand and supply. If the supply of child labourers is diminished, adult work force can get employed instead. This has been an apparently successful solution in the past. If this has not yet been spotted and considered by the advocates of human rights then it definitely leaves a conscious universal citizen deluded and apprehensive of the analogical conspiracy by the world leaders against the browbeaten.



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