Top 10 Reasons to Boycott Companies that Use Child Labor

Top 10 Reasons to Boycott Companies that Use Child Labor

A boycott is a relatively new concept. The word itself comes from a man named Captain Charles Boycott. Captain Boycott was a British landlord who was living in County Mayo in Ireland at the end of the 19th century. During a poor season in 1880, he offered the tenants on the land a small discount on their rent. But, the local Irish people wanted a heavier discount and protested. The protest did not work so Boycott attempted to remove the protesters from the land.

In an attempt to teach him a lesson, the Irish Land League and the surrounding area refused to do business with Captain Boycott. They worked to isolate him both economically and socially. There was no one to work the land and no one to work in the house. Even the postman refused to deliver his main to him.

Eventually, Captain Boycott called in some workers from outside the county. Under fear of violence, it is said that 1,000 policemen and protectors had to escort the 50 workers to the farms. No violence occurred, however, all of the extra expense meant that the year’s harvest was spent immediately on making up for all of the loss.

All of a sudden, boycotting became a serious action. People loved it because it was a way of economically and socially decimating a person or company who they believed were doing wrong.

Boycotts have been successful even in the most difficult social and political situations. The boycott was a resounding success for African Americans fighting for quality during the civil rights movement. Mohandas Gandhi organized a successful boycott against British goods. Boycotts have also been used negatively and the anti-Semitic boycotts used by Nazi Germany destroyed the Jewish businesses they targeted.

As proven in Ireland, boycotts do not need to be national affairs at the beginning. A few people can create an affect that snowballs and applies serious economic and social pressure. Indeed, both activists and regular people have started to use boycotts against companies that use child labor.

Using a boycott to protest the use of Western companies continuing to use child labor highlights much more than an industry’s unsavory practices. It can also draw attention to the massive inequality in wealth throughout the world. It may even draw attention to all of the other exploitative labor that happens every day.

If a long history of successful boycotts has not yet convinced you, read on to learn the top 10 reasons to boycott companies that use child labor.

  1. Boycotting Companies Sends a Political Message

Boycotting is an effective way to communicate an important message
Boycotting is an effective way to communicate an important message

As a free citizen, you have several means at your disposal to send messages of disapproval to companies that use child labor. The boycott is a great way to demonstrate that you, and many others, are unhappy with a company’s policies regarding child labor.

Every country has different labor laws, and some of these laws vary greatly. Some countries have legislation designed specifically to protect children from being exploited or over-worked. Some countries have fewer of these laws than others. Some seem to have virtually no laws at all or just disregard the laws that do exist.

Encouraging them all is the International Labor Organization. The ILO set standards that it encourages governments to follow. While it does not undermine the autonomy of each individual government, it is designed to support governments in an effort to help deal with problems with social policy.

Using a boycott sends a wider political message that resonates both nationally and internationally. It transcends one government and speaks to the world, including NGOs and organizations like the ILO.

  1. Boycotts Do Not Require Extensive Legal Action

Boycotts are extrajudicial.
Boycotts are extrajudicial.

A boycott is a great alternative to extensive legal action. Although it may seem favorable, taking legal action against companies that use child labor is relatively fruitless. This is because the labor they use is often overseas. Labor laws in developing and third world countries are drastically different than those enacted in the United States.

There are many downsides to extensive legal action. The biggest downside is that even when it is successful it is very expensive. Years of lawyers, fees and appeals often result in little to no outcome. This is especially true when lawyers are pitted against the unending legal and political resources that large, multi-national companies have.

Another downside to extensive legal action is the press that is associated with it. While the press may release details about the company involved, the company’s lawyers will often use the media to sway public opinion about their opponents. This can be emotionally and socially taxing for anyone.

Instead of depending on the courts to settle the case, a boycott sends a clear message to the company right away. A boycott can be organized as a collective and grassroots event that can be very powerful. Instead of using a court to exact fines from companies and encourage them to move away from child labor, a boycott will send a direct message to the company where it is most vulnerable – its revenue.

  1. Boycotts Send a Message to the Government

The Government and business pay attention to mass boycotts. So does the press!
The Government and business pay attention to mass boycotts. So does the press!

Boycotts send a message to companies without requiring legal action, but they also send a message to the government. Using international, and especially domestic, child labor goes against Western moral values and as such, many people expect their favorite brands and companies to live up to similar standards.

Using child labor outside the United States is a legal gray area. However, if it is made clear to both local and national government that citizens are against the practice, these politicians can become powerful advocates on the behalf of the boycott. Not only can they endorse the boycott publically to help grow the movement, but they can also use their political clout to pressure companies.

Enacting legislation to regulate a company’s actions overseas is not only difficult but unpopular. It will be hard to find a government official who would be willing to run that kind of legislation. However, they can start petitions that travel much further and gather more influence than a single person could on their behalf.

A boycott can make a message clear to local and national governments that people are serious about the application of fair labor standards and practices. It affirms beliefs to the government that gaps remain in fair employment law, and that they remain a priority for citizens and consumers.

Boycotting products produced by child labor helps to tell the government that Americans want to see real changes in the way businesses conduct themselves. It may inspire the government to encourage businesses to abandon this practice as well.

  1. Boycotts Increase Awareness of Poverty

Boycotting will improve poverty awareness
Boycotting will improve poverty awareness

Child labor happens for a variety of reasons. Some child laborers are forced into labor. They may be kidnapped or purchased from their homes and taken to work on farms or in factories by people who make a profit off their cheap labor.

In some cases, children must go to work at an early age to support their families. There are huge numbers of families in poor and third world countries that depend on as much income as possible just to make it through another year without starving. In these places, children are excused from their childhood in order to help their parents, siblings and themselves survive.

Regardless of how it happens, poverty is often the root of child labor. While it is unfortunate that there are companies that profit from the desperation of poor families across the world, they also provide badly needed income and resources to some families.

Almost half of the world’s population lives on less than $2.50 each day. Over 1.3 billion people live on less than $1.25. These numbers include one billion children. Even though it does not cost much to purchase food in third world countries, 805 million people still do not get enough to eat. Not being able to afford food to feed their families only traps people in poverty. Hunger also remains the number one cause of death in the world.

Although many of these children are paid what seems like pennies, smaller amounts of money go much further for these families than it would for families who are purchasing the products the company makes. In some cases, working in factories for large companies keeps these children out of the clutches of those who could easily take them as indentured servants or include them in the modern slave trade.

A boycott can be about more than just exposing a company’s labor practices. It is a great opportunity to discuss what is at the root of the entire problem: global poverty that persists in the 21st century. Knowing that it would cost around $60 billion each year to put an end to this poverty does not help. Boycotts can encourage companies to contribute more of their profits towards ending global poverty.

  1. Boycotts Increase Awareness of Companies that Violate Trade Standards

Fair Trade should be fair to workers as well!
Fair Trade should be fair to workers as well!

Child labor strikes a chord with many people because they hate the idea of their own children being forced to go to work in factories at young ages. In America and in Europe, people value the idea of childhood. Many people work to protect childhood for children for as long as possible.

But child labor is a great way to increase awareness of the other laws and trade standards that many companies violate. These issues may not feel urgent because adults are expected to work. Many people would rather gloss over the fact that their products remain cheap because other people are willing to work horrible hours in poor conditions for little pay.

There are also companies that refuse to sign generally accepted trade agreements that say that they will not participate in ethically questionable practices. Apple have been long criticized for their treatment of their employees in Chinese factories, for instance. However, they remain one of the only technology companies to refuse to sign a trade agreement stating that none of their materials or products come from mines that use slave labor.

Gap, Inc. has also come under fire for the devastating conditions its workers experience oversees. After the collapse of one its shared factories, it violated labor agreements and refused to compensate the victims’ families. Not compensating victims’ families goes beyond not wanting to take responsibility for its poor building conditions. These conditions caused the death of a breadwinner. Without the extra income, many families will have come much closer to starving.

The use of child labor stems from taking advantage of the poverty of children and their families. The area of child labor is murky because banning child labor is impossible and rarely leads to suitable alternatives. However, the use of slave labor in the 21st century, or in any century, should not be condoned from any company at any time. Not only is slave labor morally and ethically bankrupt but it is against international law.

  1. Boycotting Companies That Use Child Labor Shines Light on Other Issues in Employment

Boycotting will shine a light on child labor
Boycotting will shine a light on child labor

For many Westerners, child labor is the most abhorrent form of labor. It is estimated that 215 million children currently work in illegal or hazardous conditions around the world. But, child labor is a symptom of a greater issue that affects all ages, not just children.

The number of people worldwide that work in conditions that are exploitative is very high. There are still many cases of indentured servitude, slavery and human trafficking that take place on every continent. The most vulnerable people in the world are at risk of working in these conditions no matter what country they live in.

Indentured servitude and modern day slavery are systems that continue to destroy lives across the world. In some cases, labor laws only unwittingly help those who are in control of their employees continue to abuse them. One woman who tried to leave a harsh situation in Qatar was not permitted to leave her abusive employer because he would not give her permission.

Under national law, employees must have the permission of an employer to quit their jobs. Since foreign workers make up 94% of laborers in the country, it is certain that this is not an anomaly by any means.

From Indonesia to Pakistan to the United States to the United Kingdom, both individuals and companies take advantage of poor people for their own financial gain. Many people who do not experience the horrors of slavery directly believe it is something that was left in the colonialization of the past.

Unfortunately for millions of workers, modern slavery is a real issue. Boycotting companies that use practices like child labor can open the door for the acknowledgment and discussion about the abuse that happens in homes and businesses around the world.

  1. People Become More Globally Aware of Economic Issues

Inequality is at its highest level in the modern age.
Inequality is at its highest level in the modern age.

In America, many politicians like to make economics a political issue. What few people acknowledge or realize is that the way businesses conduct themselves reflects more than just the kind of market economy that the country has. Economic issues are humanitarian issues both at home and abroad.

Since the use of child labor is the result of poverty being exploited by companies and individuals, this touchy subject can be used to enable a conversation about the true role of economics.

Economics is at the heart of many threats to society. From global warming to global conflict, the desire to keep profits flowing can be found in many areas. Global companies can shape the global economy. Companies like Coca-Cola have huge impacts on both national and world economies. This is the reason that the CEO of Coca-Cola has a standing meeting every month with the United States president.

Coca-Cola revenues makeup 40% of the GDP of Swaziland. The company’s global revenue positions it as the 84th largest economy in the world.

By boycotting global companies and increasing the awareness about how much sway some companies truly have over not over the economy, but the world, people may be able to demand that these companies make a positive difference in the world as a whole by adjusting the way they do business.

  1. Boycotting Child Labor Enables Conversation about What Childhood Is

What childhood should look like.
What childhood should look like.

In much of the Western world, people believe that a childhood should be spent playing, learning and growing. But, these beliefs are specific to a specific place, time and culture. Not all groups of people believe that children should avoid work.

Both in America and in other cultures from around the world, there are groups of people that believe that work is good for children. Of course, work that is dangerous to a child’s health is never a good thing. However, rural and agricultural communities all over the world both encourage and require young children and teenagers to help doing labor on the farm. In some cases, families need the help of their children to keep small farms running.

This is not just true on small farms in Latin America, Africa or Asia. Children in rural America are expected to perform work around the house and on farms. This is both to enable the smooth running of the farm but also because of a societal expectation that children learn the value of hard work at a young age. Many cultures believe that this helps instill values that include fulfilling the duty of supporting their families and prepares children for a life of work both at home and in the world.

A boycott opens up a dialogue about how many different people have a different opinion about what a childhood should be. This fosters more understanding and allows people to get back to the issues that matter most.

  1. Collective Action Paves the Way for Education

Boycotting can put education in the forefront
Boycotting can put education in the forefront

One of the biggest reasons that so many companies, governments and individuals use child labor and other negative practices is because they know that they can get away with it. They realize that the majority of their customer base will not worry about what they cannot see.

If companies had to disclose their actions, they would be less likely to commit such egregious labor violations.

However, what these companies do is both geographically and socially far away from what their target customer base experiences. It is hard for many people to believe that Gap would send small children to sew your khakis for only a few cents a day. Most people either do not want to believe it or have no idea that companies still do these things.

Collective action paves the way for greater education not only about a certain company’s practices but about the conditions and laws that allow them do this.

  1. A Boycott Can Lead to Action that Truly Helps Poor Children

Boycotting can help crush poverty.
Boycotting can help crush poverty.

In the real world, the results of a boycott rarely lead to happy lives for the children working in factories. Either the company does not respond to the boycott or they are forced to rescind their current policies and remove all of the child workers from their factories.

Essentially, either nothing changes for these children or things get worse. A boycott is only a small part of the solution for ending child labor in the production of Western products. If those who boycott companies really want to help the children working in factories abroad, they must demand more than just an end to using child labor.

Those who are interested in boycotting companies who use child labor could demand more child friendly policies from the companies. They may demand that the children are paid a living wage for the company. They could also demand that the conditions are fair and conducive to a healthy lifestyle. They might even demand a certain level of education to be provided for the workers.


Child labor is not going away. The fact that Western ideals disagree with the practice will not stop it from happening. As long as poverty and hunger is rife in so much of the world, there will be a huge supply of child workers.

However, boycotts can encourage companies to help battle poverty and child labor instead of enabling it. With thoughtful collective action, a boycott can help change the shape of global economics as we know it.