Inflammation and stories on Workplace Conditions

Child Labor
Children have always been a source of cheap labor, and the United States is no exception. This article recounts the history of child labor in the United States, and the steps taken to fight against its practice.

 

A History of Child Labor in the United States

 

In the colonial period, child labor was commonplace. Children were expected to assist their parents and work on the family farm. Young boys (ages 10-14) later became apprentices in different trades.

The Industrial Revolution, however, marked a new level of intensity for young workers. Children spent all day in factories with poor and dangerous conditions. Their small size allowed them to climb in and out of old factory machines. In addition to factory work, some employers used children in mines. These young workers were preferred because they were easy to control and direct. Salaries for children were also much less than those for adult workers. The large influx of immigrants into the United States in the mid 1800s led to an additional increase in child labor.

The most common reason for child labor in the United States during the Industrial Revolution was to support the family. Instead of going to school, children went to work in factories. During the nineteenth century some attempts were made to reform child labor laws and improve general working conditions. Education reformers promoted the idea that getting a primary school education was necessary to achieve self-advancement and a stronger nation. As a result, a number of states began to implement minimum wage and school attendance laws. However, they contained many loopholes and were rarely enforced.

American reformers have been actively working to fight child labor in the United States since the early 1900s. In 1904, the National Child Labor Committee was established. Along with smaller state child labor committees, the national chapter adopted a policy of “mass political action”–research reports, investigations by experts, dramatic photographs depicting oppressed children in factories, active lobbying, pamphlets, mass mailings and leaflets. However, progress was slow and often frustrating.

Committees identified state legislatures as the best vehicle to achieve reform. During the Progressive Era, many state laws regulating child labor were passed. Due to resistance from the southern states, federal child labor bills were later passed through Congress in 1916 and 1918. However, the Supreme Court ruled that they were unconstitutional.

Reformers decided to lobby for an amendment that would permit the government to pass a federal child labor law. The proposed amendment was passed through Congress in 1924, but several states failed to ratify it because of the conservative political environment at the time. Once the Great Depression hit America in the 1930s, child labor nearly disappeared as all the jobs went to adults instead of children. The National Industrial Recovery Act further placed regulations on child labor, and the Fair Labor Standards Act set federal minimum wage and maximum work hours. Children under 16 were not permitted to work in the manufacturing and mining sectors.

Due to the advancements in factory technology and the increase in required years of schooling, the issue of child labor has become largely insignificant. Violations of child labor laws still occur today, but the United States has definitely come a long way – “one of the more remarkable changes in the social and economic life of the nation over the last two centuries.”

Given its own struggle with child labor, the United States has taken action to end it abroad through initiatives like the Office of Child Labor, Forced Labor, and Human Trafficking (OCFT) – a division of the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of International Labor Affairs (ILAB). The OCFT was founded in 1993 as part of a congressional request to investigate and report on child labor practices around the world. Using research conducted by the OCFT, ILAB maintains a list of international goods produced by child labor or forced labor: fireworks from China, corn from Bolivia, bricks from Burma, carpets from India, garments from Argentina and more. In addition to publishing reports like “Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor,” the OCFT assists with the development of labor legislation and supports relevant projects; so far, more than 270 projects have been funded, benefiting children in over 90 countries. Through the OCFT, the United States hopes to collaborate with other nations in order to strengthen the enforcement of child labor laws and raise global awareness of the issue.

– Kristy Liao

Sources: ContinueToLearn, Department of Labor 1, Department of Labor 2, History
Photo: Flickr

cocoa_industry_child_labor
In 2012, CNN’s Freedom Project released a documentary called “Chocolate’s Child Slaves,” where CNN reporter David McKenzie went to the Ivory Coast to investigate child labor issues. The investigation came 10 years after the Harkin-Engel Protocol (Cocoa Protocol) was signed into law in September 2001.

Cocoa is a major export in West Africa, with 70-75 percent of the world’s supply of cocoa beans grown on small farms in the region. In this area, many children grow up in extreme poverty and have to begin working to support their families. Some children are even sold by family members to human traffickers or to owners of cocoa farms, or abducted from villages in nearby areas, including Burkina Faso and Mali.

Ghana and the Ivory Coast currently produce about 70 percent of the world’s supply of cocoa and also have an extreme child labor problem. Any children who work on cocoa farms or plantations are exposed to health hazards, use dangerous equipment and tools and are subjected to physically demanding work. Many of these children are then also unable to go to school.

In 2001, U.S. Representative Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) and Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) introduced legislation to require a labeling system to be put into place in the chocolate industry. The ultimate compromise between the government and the industry was to require chocolate companies to volunteer to certify they had stopped using child labor.

Eventually, the “Cocoa Protocol” required African governments to publicly release information and also included the creation of an audit system and ways to alleviate poverty in the area by 2005. This deadline was moved to 2008 and then to 2010, but today, many say that the requirements have still not been met in the area.

Two years after the release of CNN’s Freedom Project’s documentary, CNN went back to West Africa to see if any progress had been made in fighting child labor in the $110 billion industry. It is now estimated that up to 800,000 children work in the cocoa industry in the Ivory Coast and live in extreme poverty.

In addition, the cocoa industry in West Africa is struggling to meet increasing demand for chocolate around the world. The demand is largely coming from emerging markets, with about 1.3 million people in China beginning to buy chocolate more frequently.

In order to deal with this major increase in demand as well as fight both poverty and child labor, many chocolate companies have started to invest their money in the farmers, many of whom are the poorest members of the population.

Nestlé’s “Cocoa Plan” plans to spread awareness about the issue of child labor in the industry and to also build schools in rural areas in the Ivory Coast. Nestlé has also pledged $120 million to be given over a period of 10 years, and are planning to give 12 million new disease-resistant and high-yielding cocoa trees by 2016.

American company Cargill has its own “Cocoa Plan,” and has founded 1,200 schools in the Ivory Coast to teach good agricultural practices to 60,000 farmers. By educating these farmers, they hope to end child labor.

Many hope that collaboration between chocolate companies, governments and NGOs will be enough to alleviate poverty in West Africa, which many consider the source of the child labor problem. For now, the consensus among all groups is to help farmers and their families get out of poverty and prevent young children from being forced to work and endanger themselves.

– Julie Guacci

Sources: CNN (1), CNN (2), Food Empowerment Project, International Labor Rights Forum, Huffington Post

black_gold_coffee_ethiopia
The coffee farmers of Ethiopia are told that their coffee is gold. “If our coffee is gold,” the farmers ask, “then why do we get nothing?” Two billion cups of coffee are consumed every day around the world. Coffee beans are grown in poorer, developing nations and then shipped off to the West for consumption. The price of a cup of coffee is $0.12 in Ethiopia, while a cup in a Western country costs up to $2.90.

Four major multinational corporations dominate the world market: Kraft, Nestle, Proctor & Gamble and Sara Lee. Until 1989, an International Coffee Agreement regulated the supply of coffee on the world market. Now, the international price of coffee is established in the New York and London Stock Exchange, where coffee is the second most actively traded commodity.

Black Gold is a documentary about Ethiopian coffee farmers’ struggle to seek higher prices for their coffee beans. Ethiopia is the largest producer of coffee in Africa, with over 15 million individuals depending upon coffee farming and production for survival. Coffee makes up 67 percent of export revenue in Ethiopia.

Tadesse Meskela manages the Oromia Coffee Farmer’s Co-operative Union, which represents 74,000 coffee farmers. Through their union, they are cutting out the middlemen in the chain of coffee production. Not only do the farmers grow the coffee beans, they also roast the beans themselves.

These farmers and their families depend on the coffee beans to survive. These people are born into coffee-growing families and communities and they have little chance to escape. They are forced to become coffee farmers and to remain stuck in poverty.

The coffee beans create a single production economy, making the economy extremely dependent upon Western companies and consumers. These coffee farmers in Ethiopia do not receive subsidies from their governments. Slight fluctuations in price will greatly affect the local farmers.

There are many various interlinked factors that have created these unequal global trade relations. Many of them have links to colonial and post-colonial relationships. Through social, economic and political policies Western nations have forced developing nations to remain dependent upon them for survival.

In international organizations such as the World Trade Organization (WTO) developing nations are not able to have their voices and problems heard. The WTO sets rules of global trade, but is dominated by the larger, richer developed countries. These negotiations take place behind closed doors and the smaller delegations have been losing.

Consumer awareness of the farmers’ conditions is vital. While large multinational corporations and middlemen are benefiting from coffee production, the farmers themselves get almost nothing. Consumers need to be aware and ask for fair trade products. Fair trade coffee beans are labeled and available at most grocery stores.

In this age of increased globalization, it is important to be aware of how we are impacting the lives of other people, and how we are impacting the planet. When we go to Starbucks, and buy that cup of steaming coffee, we do not see the human lives that have been put into that cup. We do not see the coffee bean farmers praying for the weather to be kind. We do not see the women who pick the coffee beans for less than 50 cents a day. We do not see their children who go hungry. We only see the coffee in our cup and we are satisfied.

– Sarah Yan

Sources: Black Gold Film,The New York Times
Photo: Universal Cargo

uk_migrant_workers_abused
A Human Rights Watch report reveals that traveling employers often abuse their migrant workers in the United Kingdom. Meanwhile, the government tends to neglect the abuses and has thus far made it harder for the workers to escape the prison-like conditions.

According to the report’s press release, migrant workers face a range of abuses such as “confiscation of passports, confinement to the home, physical and psychological abuse, extremely long working hours with no rest days and very low wages or non-payment of wages.”

In 2012, the U.K., despite being challenged by UN experts and NGOs, terminated the migrant workers’ right to change their employers upon their arrival from a different country.

Before traveling to the U.K., under the Overseas Domestic Worker visa, domestic workers are required to have been employed by their employer for no less than a year. The visa also limits the employer and the migrant worker to a temporary visit.

“The most serious consequence of the new tied visa for migrant domestic workers is that if they leave their employ they become undocumented,” the report explains. “As a result, domestic workers who have escaped for abusive conditions can be afraid to approach the police out of fear of being deported from the U.K.”

Similar abuses such as the ones occurring in the U.K. take place in the Gulf under the “kafala” system.

According to Graham Peebles, director of the Create Trust, “The draconian Kafala sponsorship system, (which grants ownership of migrants to their sponsor), together with poor or non-existent labour laws, endemic racism and gender prejudice, creates an environment in which extreme mistreatment has become commonplace in the oil-rich kingdom.”

Although the U.K. government was criticized for doing little to stop the practice of kafala within its borders, HRW suggested it could still act to prevent further abuses.

For example, many abusive employers also serve as diplomats who are given immunity due to their profession. On the other hand, one possible course of action that could be taken involves waiving the immunity given to them when they commit crimes against the migrant workers.

As for the U.K. parliament, HRW suggests that the institution should pass legislation that criminalizes the confiscation of the workers’ passports.

While the government decides what to do next, diplomats who already practice kafala in their own countries are given the impression that they can continue to abuse their migrant workers while traveling in the U.K.

– Juan Campos

Sources: Counterpunch, Human Rights Watch
Photo: Flickr

garment_workers_bangladesh
When people buy from brands like Nike and shop at stores like H&M and Gap, they do not pay much attention to how the products arrived at the stores. In many cases, these clothing products are produced in sweatshops in developing countries like Bangladesh, Cambodia, and Indonesia. Almost half of the population in Bangladesh lives off of less than a dollar a day.

Garment workers in Bangladesh toil day after day under extremely harsh conditions for low wages, sometimes handling dangerous chemicals with their bare hands and inhaling toxic fumes due to poor ventilation in many factories.

In April of 2013, an eight story building in Bangladesh called Rana Plaza collapsed leaving over 100 dead and over 2,000 injured.

The poor conditions of the factory itself and the lack of safety precautions taken to ensure its workers’ well-being were neglected and therefore led to the collapse. In addition to this incident, there has been a history of factory mishaps over the past couple of years in Bangladesh. In November of 2012, the Tazreen garment factory in Bangladesh caught fire and killed 112 of its workers.

At this time, the factory was producing goods for Walmart.

Besides the incidents themselves, it is also important to focus on the working conditions and the violations of human rights that happen daily in factories like these. According to the Institute for Global Labor and Human Rights, workers in the Tazreen factory work 72-81 hours per week. Their salary depends on their sewing skill; senior sewing operators earn at minimum 23 cents per hour and junior sewing operators earn 21 to 22 cents an hour.

As a majority of the workers are women, abuse is common and some are even denied maternity leave — blatant violations of human rights that have been occurring for years. Even after one tragedy, further precautions are not taken to ensure the safety of the workers.

An article from the Daily Mail accounts a Canadian journalist who worked undercover in Bangladesh and witnessed the atrocities of one of the smaller garment factories. She reported that when she first arrived at the sweatshop, a nine-year-old girl named Meem was in charge of training her.

The article also noted that there were “no fire extinguishers, only one exit – the front door – and little more than a hole in the ground, down a rat-infested hall, for the toilet.” These accounts present the harsh reality for many garment workers in Bangladesh.

Violations of human rights are happening elsewhere too—most recently in Cambodia. Workers there have started protesting in the city Phnom Penh for higher wages.

Sometimes people take things for granted because they are easily accessible. Organizations like the Clean Clothes Campaign have been established to spread awareness of this issue and to help those who have been detained for protesting for higher wages and better conditions. By not purchasing products from companies who outsource their work unfairly to other countries, a better future can be created for garment workers whose human rights have been violated.

– Kenneth W. Kliesner

Sources: BBC News, The New York Times 1, The New York Times 2, The Epoch Times
Photo: Demotix

repatriation companies
Migrant workers are a common sight among the busy streets of Singapore; they have been essential to the growth of the impressive buildings that paint the skyline. But like many countries that rely on migrant workers, abuse does rear its ugly head.

Many workers who make their way to Singapore seek money that simply is not available in their home country. Typically, they sign a contract, allowing them to reside in the country for a specific period of time.

Workers who do not wish to leave are put in the hands of companies that specialize in corralling migrant workers and forcibly removing them from the country. Many of these companies have been known to use intimidating and sometimes violent tactics.

Bapari Jarkir, a Bangladeshi migrant worker, encountered the employees of a repatriation company at the point of a knife. His employer wanted to expel him off his job as a welder, but he refused due to the high amount of debt he incurred while moving to Singapore.

He was escorted to the office of a repatriation company, where he was forcibly detained for several hours until he agreed to sign a document saying he was responsible for paying his $3,900 bond that each construction firm must give up to the government for each migrant worker. The bond money is usually returned to the company once the migrant worker leaves the country.

Should a migrant worker fail to leave the country once their contract is up, the construction firm is levied with a sizeable fine. The bonds the companies hand over to the government combined with the risk of facing fines has resulted in a profitable market for repatriation companies. Horror stories have also been reported detailing the expulsion of workers from Singapore should any health issues occur.

Construction companies are typically responsible for insuring their workers and paying medical expenses should they arise. A Bangladeshi worker named Shagar faced deportation following a work related injury.

After he hurt his leg while carrying heavy tile, he pursued compensation through his employer. After being summoned to the foreman’s office, he encountered two large men who escorted him to the headquarters of a repatriation company. The company informed him he was being placed on a flight back to Bangladesh. Luckily, he was able to remember a lawyer’s assistant’s number and was provided assistance.

The issue of Singapore’s repatriation companies has even garnered the attention of the United States government. In its 2013 Report on Human Trafficking, it confirms the experience of Bapari and Shagar at the hands of repatriation companies. It notes instances of workers being “seized and confined” against their will and threatened into leaving the country.

While Singapore is a very modern and stable nation, it needs desperate reform of its labor laws concerning migrant workers; specifically the bonds the government requires from every firm employing migrant workers, which has created a market for these repatriation companies to flourish. Singapore experienced its first riot in 40 years involving disgruntled migrant workers; a clear sign that change is needed.

– Zachary Lindberg

Sources: CNN, Bloomberg
Photo: UNHCR

Child_Labor
Do you own an iPhone? How about an iPad? Technology juggernaut Apple Inc. recently published an audit of the 451 plants, based in Asia, contracted as suppliers for Apple products. Of almost 1.5 million workers, Apple discovered 23 underage workers. Last year, the company discovered 74 underage workers. According to the report, workers could not exceed 60 hours per week.

Apple’s findings fall short in comparison to the growing number of underage workers in the child labor epidemic. What epidemic?

Child labor is the illegal use of hiring or forcing children to work in a business. Commonly, these working conditions are dangerous, hazardous, and inhumane. Not only are children working in dangerous work environments, they are not attending school. According to the University of Iowa, 75 million children did not attend school because of child labor.

According to the International Labor Organization, there are 215 million children between the ages of five and 17 working in illegal labor.

Here are some potential characteristics of child labor:

  • Ignores national and global human rights
  • Undermines child labor laws
  • Positions children in dangerous working environments
  • Involves some type of abuse toward the child

Child labor occurs mainly in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. However, child labor occurs across the globe. Here are a list of various industries where children are working:

  • Agriculture. Sixty percent of child labor occurs in commercial agriculture. Children working in this industry work long hours, are vulnerable to pesticides, and receive little pay
  • Manufacturing. Fourteen million children work in manufacturing
  • Mining. Children who work in this industry are vulnerable to physical harm
  • Child trafficking. Over six million children are forced into bondage, serfdom, or sexual exploitation. The New York Daily News recently published an article that exploiting Perusian children being sold into sex slavery

Primary Cause of Child Labor

The primary cause of child labor is poverty. As families struggle to acquire basic necessities such as food, shelter, and clothing, families become desperate to make ends meet. Here are some facts about the severity of global poverty provided by UNICEF:

  • 2.5 billion people lack access to improved sanitation
  • 1 billion children are deprived of one or more services essential to survival and development
  • 22 million infants are not protected from diseases by routine immunization
  • 4 million newborns worldwide are dying in the first month of life
  • 101 million children are not attending primary school

As these states show, global poverty is a serious epidemic.

Without access to basic needs and steady income, child labor has spread. Anecdotes about child labor are plentiful online. The common thread among these anecdotes is that fact that poor children are being forced to work long hours in dangerous environments, and they are not being paid. Poor safety conditions contribute to the illnesses, deaths, and injuries afflicted on innocent children.

Poor safety perpetuates the cycle of poverty and child labor. As one child dies or becomes terminally ill, another child is forced to work in illegal conditions.

– Leonard Wilson, Jr. 

Sources: Child Labor Public Education Project, NY Daily News, Reuters
Photo: The Hindu

sochi_2014_olympics_games
Sochi, Russia makes the news almost every day. Whether it be about the enormous security being put in place for the forth coming Olympic Games or the various political leaders who are boycotting the games to demonstrate their displeasure at Russian anti-LGBT law. What is left out of the news however are Russia’s poor.

There are currently 18 million Russians living on or below the minimum wage of 4,600 rubles, according to Forbes Magazine. That is the equivalent of $155 a month, in a country whose cost of living is 6,200 rubles or $210. In the United States by comparison, there are 46.5 million people living at or below the poverty line which according to the Huffington Post in 2012 was $23, 283 annually. That works out to around $1940.25 per month.

By the time the 2014 Winter Olympics occur, Sochi will have had spent $51 billion, making it the most expensive Olympic Games to date. However all is not well even inside Sochi, Human Rights Watch has put out a 67 page document detailing some of the abuses that many of the migrant workers have been subjected to while working to prepare Sochi for the Games.

Human Rights Watch points out that the majority of these workers are paid between $1.80 and $2.60 an hour working on constructing the various Olympic venues. Moreover, in an interview with the Washington Post, 64-year-old resident of Sochi, Alexander Dzhadze lives on a pension of $170 a month and was told to make improvements to it in order for it to be an acceptable part of Sochi’s backdrop.

There have also been accusations of corruption concerning the issuing of construction contracts dealing with the Games. For instance, two lifelong friends of Vladimir Putin, Arkady and Boris Rotenberg have received upwards of 21 contracts and $7 billion.

The gap between rich and poor in Russia is also widening. According to Bloomberg, the 110 billionaires in Russia own 35% of the planet’s wealth, in comparison, worldwide billionaires only account for 1 to 2% of the world’s wealth.

The Olympic Games are a time for nations to come together and share in the joy that is the competitive spirit of the sporting world. The games are a chance for nations to shine and to reconnect with their citizens and the athletes who represent them.

Russia’s foray thus far into the Olympics has been met with scandals, allegations of criminal activity and a myriad of other issues and conflicts. However, the Games have also given those in Russia whose plight would have remained a mystery had the games not come to Sochi, a voice and platform from which to tell and share their stories and experiences with the outside world.

This opportunity can result in media exposure for Russia’s poor and will hopefully allow for new and exciting opportunities for them once the Olympics begin. As the Games approach, the world can only wait and see how they will unfold.

Arthur Fuller

Photo: Autostrattle
Sources:
Mother Jones, Forbes, Business Week, Washington Post

domestic_worker
Around the globe, tens of millions of women and young girls are currently employed as domestic workers in private households. In 1999, 98.5% of domestic and migrant workers employed in the United States were women. Their duties consisted of cooking, cleaning, caring for other young children, watching after elderly family members, and other essential chores for their employers. Working 14-18 hours daily with pay well below minimum wage, domestic workers are the most exploited and abused workers in the world.

During the times of their employment, they may be locked within their workplace and made victims of physical or sexual violence. According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), children and migrant domestic workers are often the most vulnerable individuals.

In June 2011, an international treaty known as the Domestic Workers Convention (DWC) was adopted as the first global standard to protect domestic workers.

With an estimated 53 million domestic workers worldwide, the pressure to protect them has been increasing drastically. In the last two years, over 25 countries have improved legal protections for domestic workers.

Among some of the strongest reforms are those that were created in Latin America. However, the European Union has proven to give the most challenges towards legal reforms.

Due to the growing elderly population in the EU, it has become extremely dependent on the care of domestic workers for these individuals. The Middle East and Asia have also experienced minimal change, with the worst cases of abuse. Regardless of the essential services that the domestic workers provide, the inequality and discrimination they endure is viewed as abhorrent. The influence of domestic workers’ rights movements is emphasized by the International Labour Organization and the DWC.

On September 5, 2013, the DWC was initiated into legal force. This entitles domestic workers to the same rights as those that are guaranteed to other workers. Uruguay, Philippines, Mauritius, Nicaragua, Italy, Bolivia, Paraguay, South Africa, Guyana, and Germany have all put the DWC into effect.

Despite the progress, there are still obstacles to be overcome. Although child labor has declined, child domestic labor increased by 9% between 2008 and 2012. Often times, domestic workers also become victims of forced labor and even trafficking.

Individuals have taken advocacy campaigns for unions into their own hands, however. Through meetings with government officials, social media campaigns, and various alliances, civil society groups promoted the Domestic Workers Convention.

Some countries prevent workers from organizing unions or joining ones already established. Bangladesh, Thailand, and the United States are among the countries that prevent domestic workers from forming unions.

– Samaria Garrett

Sources: Human Rights Watch
Photo: The Guardian