The recent series about sweatshops and child labour is long overdue; as a fair trade supporter, I’d suggest that the problems go deeper, with items used to make fabrics, technology, food, and jewellery being sourced by slave labour. Here are a few examples (www.slaveryfootprint.org): Brazil-sugar cane, cotton, coffee, soy, silicon; China-acrylic, cashmere, gold, lead, polyester; Malaysia-palm oil; India-linen; Russia-nickel, mica (used in makeup). The International Labour Rights Forum estimates that 211 million children around the world are working, many forced onto cocoa plantations, paid nothing, and never attending school. In India alone, 28 million children between the ages of six and 14 work in shops, kitchens and factories. Even more disturbing is the U.S. Department of Labor’s annual report which found that 134 goods are still produced by forced labor and child labor in 74 countries.
Probably the worst case I’ve seen involved children being held as slaves to make Christmas ornaments. On Dec. 21, 2012, on the Child Labor Coalition website, former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, now the United Nations Special Envoy for Global Education, speaks about Indian children making ornaments in a video. Brown describes a rescue raid by Bachpan Bachao Andolan (BBA) which freed 14 of the child laborers—some as young as eight—from a sweatshop in Delhi. BBA, like the Child Labor Coalition is a member of the Global March Against Child Labor, an international umbrella group working to reduce the worst forms of child labor. These children worked 17 hours a day in a basement, in unsanitary conditions, without sunlight. Rescuers actually found 12 of the children imprisoned in a locked 6-foot by 6-foot cell.
This video had a profound effect on me. I decided to buy only fair trade items in 2013, and have been blogging about what I’ve learned and the difficulties I’ve encountered. I’ve boycotted stores known for using sweatshop or child labour, have struggled to avoid chocolate, one of the worst offenders of child labour, have paid more for fairly produced items, and have bought less things. I felt good about my efforts, until I started reading the Star’s series. Then I felt overwhelmed.