Saturday, November 24, 2012

Child Labor

After my Black Friday post, I was asked to explain what child labor means to me, specifically,
"I would love to know your views on what constitutes unacceptable child labor, and whether any work done by children in support of their families is acceptable to you."
So, going on the basic premise that if one person asks, several are thinking, let me share here :)
Let me preface this by saying this is all my own thoughts from my research and observations, not the stand of any organization.

Child labor, in its simplest definition is a child forced to work at dangerous jobs, for extended periods of time, unable to enjoy the basics of childhood (fun, education, love). In the example of the chocolate industry, children are frequently kidnapped and forced to harvest cacao with no hope of escape, love, safety, fun, or education. The job is dangerous: they climb a tree with a large, sharp machete, then use said machete to chop down the seeds and open them up, many times injuring themselves in the process. Medical care is off limits. They live in conditions that we wouldn't think of subjecting our animals to. Nothing about this situation is okay; it's child labor, human trafficking, slavery.

A while back, I turned down an offer of chocolate from a coworker, who kept after me to find out why I wouldn't take a piece. When I told her I don't eat non-Fair Trade chocolate because of the high incidence of slave labor, especially child slave labor involved, she compared it to her childhood, saying, "Please, my parents made me do yard work every weekend. That's slave labor!". Um, no. Because you had a loving family taking care of you. You had friends, toys, play time. You were given education that went all they way through university. And I highly doubt that by doing basic yard work you were in any danger.

Helping with household chores is a normal part of growing up. In the city, that meant that I helped with dishes, laundry, raking leaves. Friends in the country would feed the chickens, brush the horses. This is acceptable for children to do (providing they're old enough, of course. A two year old shouldn't be washing dishes like knives, but they can pick up toys). I have no problems with children contributing to the family's household or business, provided they still get to be children and are safe. Children should be loved, safe, free to have fun, and free to an education, but can have these basic childhood rights and still contribute to their families.

Fair trade and similar labeling ensures that any children involved are receiving an education, not working long hours in a field or dangerous jungle. Yes, if the source involved is a family farm, they may be contributing to the upkeep with chores, but their main job is to be a kid, not work the farm.

What's your stand on child labor? Did I miss anything? Let me know what you think!

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