I received a great comment on my blog entry: “Reforms Follow Bangladesh tragedies“, from Rebekah. She said: “I have been working to be more conscious of where I spend my money when I buy clothes, for this very reason. I got to thinking, does anyone know if we also hurt these very poor people when we stop buying from the countries that do use child labor? Are these kids working so their families have money to survive? How are we helping them by not buying from those countries? Any information on this?”
These are great questions and it brings up issues that I have heard before, but have never formally addressed, such as: Is globalization truly lifting people up out of poverty in these far-away poor countries? Well, China, for certain, has benefited, as for the others, the jury is still out.
How are we helping them by not buying from those countries?
First off, I will answer the last question: How are we helping them by not buying from those countries (that use child labor)?
Before we get started, just a little primer. Specifically, regarding Child Labor, The United States government behind Senator Tom Harkin and the United Nations have been trying to eliminate child labor since 1992, and have had a great impact. As far as Bangladesh, which has a high precedence of child labor, has still not signed the UN amendment on The National Child Labor Elimination Policy of 2010. Bangladesh did pass a lesser “Labor Act” in 2006 which prohibits employment for children under 14 and hazardous work for children under 18 years of age. However, this legislation is easily bypassed, allowing children to work in subcontracted or “informal” factories.
So, what happens when we stop buying clothing from a certain “bad reputation” country is reform. By seeing a drop in orders and income, owners will try to find out why – and if they find out that is is because of child labor, they will support and pass laws prohibiting child labor. The United States has led the crusade against child labor, but it is up to the citizens of the United States to see that these laws and ideas are enforced. The United States has prohibited child labor since 1880, it is time for the rest of the world to catch up. If this child can no longer work in the garment factories, I would actually feel better for the Bengladeshi child that he/she could no longer work an average works six days a week at a minimum of 10.5 hours a day. See, also, the article from The Daily Beast 10/21/09 called Born To Work.
Other reforms from boycotting products would be implementing safety precautions and upgrading factories with investment from the multi-national companies that employ them.
For more information about child labor and child labor laws in Bangladesh, plus a study of the children’s work hours, see “Child Labor in the informal Garment Production in Bangladesh.”
Is Outsourcing or Globalization helping poverty?
This is an extension of the first question. If we are no longer employing the child, what about the rest of the garment factory and Bangladesh as an entire nation? Wouldn’t they suffer without the jobs?
Another way to look at this would be to ask the question: Is outsourcing a social good?
1) The Real Reason For Outsourcing
First, one must understand that corporations have absolutely no interest in producing social benefits. They only move their companies to poor countries simply is to maximize profits. The Heads of these multi-national corporations never argue this point. Only the apologists for the multi-national corporations try to make this weak point.
2) World Poverty – Mostly Rural
One fifth of the world’s population is affected by poverty – people who live on less than $1 a day. Of these 63% of the people live in rural areas (90% in Bangladesh are also rural). Globalization/outsourcing jobs are in urban environment, therefore at least 63% of these people are excluded. Globalization may help a small community of people, in part of one city, of an entire nation. I think that selling the idea that globalization is a cure for for poverty and a social good is over-hyping and downright misleading. Now, if you came from another direction, and said that we are starting globalization to improve poverty as a social good, then some people might say, “Well, there is some potential, but the organization needs to be majorly reorganized with addition of education and infrastructure (roads, plumbing, electricity, etc.)”.
3) The Location of the outsourced factory
And if you think corporations pick out a certain location to bring their American jobs to Bangladesh, so that this one particular area of Bangladesh can be lifted out of poverty, then you are simply living in a fantasy world. Corporations look at a location by studying their access to and from the factories, plus if there is an overabundance of very poor but willing workers (other factors include tax breaks, government cooperation, etc). In essence, the corporations are looking for a “captive” audience, like starting a business in a prison. By employing this strategy, they can exploit these workers with wages deathly low (but normal for the area), without worrying about: safety concerns; health concerns; or environmental concerns. These workers will endure abuses not tolerated by many other civilizations. So, I wouldn’t thump my chest about improving poverty in far-away places.
4) Outsourcing of American jobs to other nations is severely detrimental to the US economy.
One important factor that people fail to realize is that the United States is drowning under an ever-expanding trade deficit. That means the country is losing money exponentially. The downturn in the U.S. economy and the start of outsourcing started in earnest in 1980. It is impossible for a debtor nation to continue to fund the finances of all the other countries in the world. The United States needs to strengthen its own economy by: adding jobs; improving education, both, vocational and secondary schools; and increasing manufacturing jobs to provide at least 20 – 25% of our needs. We are currently down to 5%, down from 80% in 1975. By improving our economy, we can improve the economy of other countries. The doctor needs to heal himself, so he can heal others.
I believe that child labor is wrong, period. I don’t think you should feel bad if the child can no longer work full-time at a factory, he should be in school, and he will live like the rest of the children in his area. Poor, but not exploited. Outsourcing to countries like Bangladesh are simply a way to maximize profits for the CEO’s in New York City. They didn’t intend to improve the working conditions in those far-away countries and they haven’t, except for maybe a rare case. Thanks, Rebekah, for the great comment.