The Evil for the Good?

A posting at an Indian factory entrance

A posting at an Indian factory entrance

Some countries are infamous for their child labor issues. India and Bangladesh are unsurprisingly on this list along with countries such as Pakistan and Turkmenistan. In these countries, first in India and just a few months ago in Bangladesh, factories are starting to get involved to prohibit child labor. It has started to respond effectively to requests of the buyers in this particular area. A very common policy is now to forbid minors from being allowed within the factory limits.

This general situation leads to several comments:

  1. What compelled factories to finally form a non-minor policy?  The lack of awareness about social compliance is most likely the origin for initial non-conformity. Child labor and young workers’ management are very often confusing from both buyer side than from factory side. The main difference being young workers ( young workers are minors but older than children by legal age definition – different by country but roughly between ages 14-16) are allowed to work under specific regulations (relatively lighter jobs). When we find issues regarding young workers management, we make sure to explain accurately the legal differences to avoid any misunderstandings which could lead to drastic consequences. However, to avoid confusion and ultimately, risk losing customers, factories find it easier to ban all minors from their workplace. Two other reasons for this strict no-minor policy are the: 1) legal limits on working conditions factories are subjected to with young workers, and 2) the lack of awareness that having children on-site as long as they’re not working and kept in a safe environment does not have legal ramifications.

This ban on all minors has its own consequences:

  1. The first consequence of this non-minor policy is discrimination. Actually, the young workers are discriminated on the basis of their age and not their skills. Even if young workers regulations are sometimes pretty hard to match with factories practices, a general no-minor policy is without a doubt discriminatory, calling for a real human resources approach to be implemented instead.
  2. The second consequence of this non-minor policy is not on the factory level, but on the country level. As many factories implement such policy, it becomes almost impossible for young workers to find jobs. This will relegate them to the informal economy and the worst factories with no concept of social compliance.

The strong involvement of buyers in the fight against child labor has seen huge improvements, but such one-sided actions effectively marginalize an important healthy group of the workforce and decreases opportunities for improvement in their working conditions. Social compliance requires buyers and factories to take into account the impact of their actions and direct consequences on the community. A simple, strict approach can not address the real needs of workers.

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