This programme looks at aspects of child labour at home and abroad. It explores the complex relationships between young people in N.I. who buy (or have bought for them) branded sports gear and young people in developing countries, some of whom make the goods for very low wages. The programme examines the power of both the teenage consumer and the multinational company and considers the effectiveness and implications of personal decisions.
The main vehicle for the programme is a discussion hosted by Stephen McCloskey from the One World Centre for Northern Ireland. The young people reflect on child labour around the world and on their role (if any) in influencing the behaviour of their peers, governments or multinational clothing companies.
The programme looks at various examples of young people working in the Third World and in Northern Ireland. Examples are given of young people labouring in coal mines in Columbia, a cigarette factory in Bangladesh and clothing factories in India. We also have a more in-depth look at the production of footballs in a village in Pakistan with contributions from three young workers.
Local situations of work shown include that of Peter, a young mechanic in Belfast who works on his father’s racing car and of Jim, who helps out in his family’s chip shop and we follow young people to an Oxfam shop in Belfast to find out about Fair Trade Goods.
The programme does not offer any fast or simple explanations. Instead it puts forward a range of views and experiences which can be compared and assessed by the viewers.
- Children are often unaware of their rights.
- Rights of young people at home and abroad and different expectations young people may have.
- Child labour is not always a bad thing
- The power of advertising and the markets:
- Because of modern technology and global markets, links between people are stronger than ever and decisions made in Northern Ireland can affect people thousands of miles away.
- Most development organisations believe that poverty is the main reason for child labour. Most also believe that the world market gives an unfair advantage to rich countries and has made the problem of poverty worse.
The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child was first put forward in 1989. Today about 99% of the World's children live in countries whose governments have agreed to abide by it. Among the main articles which concern child labour are Article 19 which states that every child should be protected
"from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation, including sexual abuse, while in the care of parent(s), legal guardian(s) or any other person who has the care of the child"
and Article 32 which states that the child has
"the right to be protected from economic exploitation and from performing any work that is likely to be hazardous or to interfere with the child's education, or to be harmful to the child's health or physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development."
In spite of this, children are the most vulnerable group in the world. Approximately 100 million young people under the age of 15 have to work. These children are often exploited and some have to work in dangerous conditions. It is also estimated that more than 13 million children die each year in the Third World because of hunger and disease.
But the issue of child labour is very complex. There are no easy answers. Many young people are expected to work and are rewarded for it both financially and in terms of their self-esteem. Often, learning a trade is their education and they are glad to be able to help their families, especially when the family’s survival may depend on it.
It could be argued that the image of the helpless, carefree child is a modern Western construct and that not many cultures have the romantic image of childhood found in wealthy industrialised countries. Imposing our Western values on others could be very dangerous and almost seen as a form of colonialism. What cannot be denied, however, is that children are very vulnerable to abuse and economic exploitation especially where there is poverty and unscrupulous business practices. In the context of globalisation weaker workers, of all ages, are very vulnerable.
The world’s states and their economies are becoming increasingly integrated, particularly in the past thirty years. Finance, labour and trade markets continue to merge, with little regard for territorial boundaries. Major drivers of this process are multinational corporations (who seek new markets and cheap production areas for their goods) and national governments, particularly Western ones (which are often manipulated and influenced by big business).
The globalisation of the world’s economy has meant that governments all over the world have needed to attract foreign investment and production to their countries. However, these governments have had little control over the practices of the multinationals who do come, or those who supply the multinationals. The major fear especially in poorer countries is that large Transnationals will simply leave if the host country has too many regulations (e.g. on wages, health, safety, environment) and go where it is cheaper to operate. In this type of situation, the abuse of workers, some of whom are very young, can be common.
Concerned consumers in wealthier countries are in a dilemma If they demand higher wages, and better conditions or if they boycott certain products, the producers may feel it is not profitable to make the product or to remain in a particular location, leaving the workers and the country in a worse position than before. Globalisation means that the links between people world-wide are much stronger and more complex than before. We all can have a great influence over others so we need to think carefully about our actions.
- The class could be asked to make a list of words which they think describe the Third World.
- Does anyone in the class work? What do they think of it? Does anyone know the extent of child labour in the world.
- How do the different examples of work compare? Are there examples of bad practises in Northern Ireland?
- Who actually benefits from different types of work in the long term?
- Do we, because of our culture, have a different view of childhood to people in the Third World.
- Do we really have a choice when we buy popular brands?
- Do young people in rich countries have more rights than those in poorer countries?
- As global citizens could we or should we do anything about child labour?
"I work for my Daddy in his chip shop and I work one day a week on a Saturday and some days if he's short staffed or something I'll go in and help him... I like working because it's interesting and it helps prepare me for the future. I like it as well because I get money to save up and buy stuff for myself. I get paid £2.50 an hour. I think it's OK for the work I do.
I can save up and put it in the bank - if I needed some stuff like clothes or CDs I'd buy it for myself. I don't work with dangerous machinery and I get paid well not like the people in other countries" - Jim
"I'm responsible for paying for my education - my Father looks after my brothers and sisters studies. I don’t think children should work because then they become very money minded and that distracts them and they need their studies. But stitching footballs is a must for us because I have to pay for my education" - Mohammed
"I know that there are 200,000,000 children under the age of 15 years who spend their waking hours working either to pay a debt of a parent or to put profits into multinational companies, banks. For me that is not merely an infringement of the convention of children's rights but it's abhorrent. What child labour does is rob the child of her imagination and her ability to play and without imagination and without play there is no hope so child labour robs children of hope." - Alison Lazarus
"In this competitive world developing countries feel that they have one big weapon, and this one big weapon is that their labour is cheaper than the labour in other countries. And if they lose this advantage many of the problems which well wishers in the western world are now pointing to in developing countries, these problems will not be solved but they will only be exacerbated." - Eimear
"It will be ending poverty that will end the issue of child labour where we will differ is how we go about is ending poverty. What I'm saying is that current policies are not ending poverty they're exacerbating inequalities and exacerbating differences between rich and poor." - Prof. Vanni Borooah
"I don't know if I'd shop differently because there's a lot of pressure from your friends to wear sports gear and if you don't wear the stuff that everybody else wears you're not considered cool in that you're sort of left out. But I would try to get people to notice and try to get fair wages and conditions to work in." - Daire