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.
Boycotting Companies Sends a Political 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.
Boycotts Do Not Require Extensive Legal Action
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.
Boycotts Send a Message to the Government
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.
Boycotts Increase Awareness of Poverty
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.
Boycotts Increase Awareness of Companies that Violate Trade Standards
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.