The new trend in Chinese factories is they don’t hire juvenile workers anymore. Juvenile workers are minors workers who are no more children. Legally speaking in china, it is the workers between 16 and 18 years old. Hiring someone between 16 and 18 years old is legal and the same kind of law is found about every countries including western countries where we have this idea of legal minor workers.
However, the Chinese factories are now often avoiding to hire these juvenile workers. They are meeting indeed one of their customer request (not always clearly said by the customers). Confusion between juvenile workers and child labor occurs. In both cases, they are minors. Thus to avoid any risk of confusion, some customers ask the factory not to hire minor workers (actually increasing the confusion between the two concepts). Others, mistaken themselves,wrongly blame the factories of child labor when the hire juvenile workers. It is then much simpler for the factories to avoid the juvenile workers.
This practice has paradoxical consequences on the child labor. The more the audited factories refuse the juvenile workers, the more the child labor risk is. In the audited factories (suppliers of rank 1), the juvenile workers are refused. But these workers are still working. Then in the sub-contractors facilities. The sub-contractors are then facing an higher proportion of minor workers. But the approach of strict limit (based on the 16th birthday date) is not the normal approach in China. It is even quite the contrary as Asia defines the world as a continuous flux while western cultures define the world as successive status. As the factories have more minor workers, the average age drops and the criticality of the age topic is becoming less important. Then the risk of hiring workers of almost 16 years old increase. But, during an audit or in a news article it is again the occidental approach which is taken into account. Thus, a worker of 15 years old, 11 months and 15 days will be understood as a child only.
As a result, the risk of lack of management (and its consequences) is more important than with a proper management of the age of workers directly in the main suppliers facilities.
The “simplifying” approach of avoiding juvenile workers without taking into account the juvenile workers and the consequences for them actually bring higher risks both for the workers and for the brands.