Millions of children are currently trapped in the world of child labor. Underpaid, they work in unsafe conditions for long periods of time to manufacture products that other people from all around the world enjoy. Companies who utilize children to manufacture their products fuel the expansion of a world-wide problem that still goes unnoticed by most of the population.
Child labor is most prominent in Third World countries such as Eritrea, Somalia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Myanmar, and Sudan according to Maplecroft’s Child Labor Index.
According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), in 2013, approximately 265,000,000 children were exploited all around the world, amounting to roughly 17% of the world’s total population of children. The ILO also reported that 22,000 children die every year from work- related accidents. While every country has different standards regarding the legal age that workers need to be in order to work, the above statistics take these variations into consideration.
Despite the risks, companies continue to buy products manufactured by underage workers. The inexpensive items many enjoy are made possible by the cheap labor from child workers. Yet, some companies overlook who exactly is making their items, since large corporations often hire third-parties to produce their products.
Some students at the Fair Lawn High School offered their insights regarding companies that utilize child employment.
“It is awful. I think that it is a major issue that is horrible. Definitely do not want to buy something that is made with child labor,” said a sophomore.
“Personally, I think it is wrong,” said another Fair Lawn High School sophomore.
Billion dollar companies such as Apple and Samsung have been cited selling technology produced from cobalt that is mined by children in the DRC. Both companies say that if they find that one of their manufacturers employs child laborers, they will cut off all ties with that manufacturer. Apple claims that they are always looking to investigate poor labor practices.
"When we investigated, we uncovered records and conducted worker interviews that revealed excessive working hours and seven days of continuous work," Apple said in an interview published by the Telegraph.
Despite Apple’s assertions that they are always investigating these issues, the extent to which this is true has been challenged.
As found by The Washington Post, “Cobalt mined in these harsh conditions ends up in popular consumer products. It moves from small-scale Congolese mines to a single Chinese company — Congo DongFang International Mining, part of one of the world’s biggest cobalt producers, Zhejiang Huayou Cobalt — that for years has supplied some of the world’s largest battery makers. They, in turn, have produced the batteries found inside products such as Apple’s iPhones — a finding that calls into question corporate assertions that they are capable of monitoring their supply chains for human rights abuses or child labor.”
Furthermore, representatives of Apple stated that they were unable to determine if the cobalt was mined in the DRC.
If nonprofit organizations can link underage cobalt mining to Apple, why can’t the most profitable company in the world uncover the truth themselves?
“It shows that the company is wasting more time on economic growth than the working conditions of their workers. They are neglecting to oversee the whole operation of their product,” a sophomore at Fair Lawn High School said.
Technology giants are not the only ones benefiting from child labor. Clothing companies like H&M and Forever 21 have also been accused of this practice. H&M was accused by Swedish journalists to have purchased products from producers who employ children to work for 12 hours a day.
This exposure led to a drop in sales for H&M as found by the DW, a media company. As more companies are connected to child labor in the media, they have begun to spend more time on uncovering factories that use child laborers on their own.
“The only way that child labor is going to get attention is if something major happens and it is spread around the news,” a sophomore at Fair Lawn High School said.
According to the US Department of Labor, companies need to put an end to child labor by requiring more transparency from their manufacturers. As long as companies regularly check their labor sources and investigate claims, child labor will start to diminish around the world.
Thumbnail credit: Amnesty International
Banner credit: AP Photo/ Sakchai Lalit