Take a Bow My Friends

Take a Bow My Friends

Over the course of the last decade many people have been involved in campaigns calling on clothing manufacturers to stop using cotton farmed in Uzbekistan, for it was harvested using forced child labour. Churches, schools, trade unions and other community groups joined together, not only in Australia but around the world to demand change.In those early days it was tough going. With a few exceptions, our postcard campaigns calling on companies to stop using Uzbeki cotton were not welcomed by the companies they targeted. But over time there was increasing goodwill and today civil society groups and a large number of Australian clothing manufacturers are  working together to create change.In February this year the International Labor Organisation (ILO) released its latest report on Uzbeki cotton. The ILO has been conducting third party monitoring since 2013.  This is how the latest report begins:
There is no systematic use of child labour in the cotton harvest in Uzbekistan and significant measures to end forced labour are being implemented.
At the same time the Government withdrew children from the cotton fields, adult forced labourers frequently took their place. Measures are however being implemented to combat this and are meeting with success. The latest ILO report found that
13% of cotton pickers participate involuntarily and under menace of penalty.
That 13% is some 336,000 people. As disturbing was this may be the figure is falling in response to a range of measures implemented by the Government of Uzbekistan. One of the most important these has been a doubling of wages, which means more and more people are seeking out employment in cotton picking and thus reducing the demand for forced labour.
There’s still a way to go, but it looks like we’ll get there very soon. So to everyone who participated in the campaign, take a bow my friends.       

How much more would you pay for a football to make sure it wasn’t made by child labour?

Today’s Sydney Morning Herald published research showing children in India are stitching footballs for two of Australia’s biggest sportsball brands, Sherrin and Canterbury . For their efforts the children miss out on schooling, their eyesight is deteriorating, their backs ache and their hands are frequently cut and infected. They earn around 50-60 rupees a day, which equates to AUS$0.90-1.07.

The footballs come from suppliers who have signed ethical sourcing codes but manage to find their way around independent monitoring designed to check their compliance.

Sherrin and Canterbury have promised to investigate and take remedial action.

So what action should they take? Sherrin and Canterbury must do more than kick suppliers using child labour out of their supply chains. That will just push the problem elsewhere. The root cause of the problem is poverty – parents who cannot meet the needs of their families have little option but to co-opt their children into labour. At the end of the day Sherrin and Canterbury need to pay more. If the parents earn a sufficient wage they will no longer need their children to work.

So what would it cost? Research in 2009 suggested a living wage is around 6500-8500 rupees a month (AUS $116-152). The report defines a living wage as a wage level

which should enable the worker to provide for himself and his family not merely the basic essentials of food, clothing and shelter but a measure of frugal comfort including education for children, protection against ill health, requirements of essential social needs and a measure of insurance against more important misfortunes including old age.

This would mean increasing the wages paid to football stitchers around three to five fold. Sounds like a lot, but assuming a stitcher makes 5-7 balls a day, that’s an increase of around 30 rupees per ball, or AUS $0.50. Not such a high price to pay is it?

I am Complicit

Watching the video I felt sick. It showed the plight of child miners in Tanzania. Terrified young children sent down poorly constructed tunnels doing backbreaking and dusty work; children robbed of the opportunity to attend school; robbed of the present opportunity to enjoy the carefree play of childhood; and robbed of their future.

The video then  cuts to a  luxurious jewellery centre, selling necklaces, earrings, and  bracelets adorned with the gemstone tanzanite, gemstones mined by the children. I felt sick because I recognised the shop. It was the shop I had entered in January 2005 to buy gifts for Sandy and my daughters. Without realizing it I had purchased gifts built on the back of the most awful exploitation of children.

According to the International Labour Organisation there are 215 million children trapped in forms of labour that steal away their childhood and harm their development. That’s one in every seven children on the planet. 115 million of these are labouring in “the worst forms of child labour” – slavery or slave-like conditions, prostitution or sex-trafficking, pornography, manufacture or sale of illicit drugs, or other forms of hazardous work, like gem mining in Tanzania, that that degrade their bodies and threaten their moral well-being.

We benefit from the exploitation of children on an almost daily basis. Almost 2 million children are involved in child labour on the cocoa farms of Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana, the source of most of the world’s cocoa; children are in bonded labour making footballs in India and Pakistan; Apple has even discovered child labourers in its factories in China!

This is an issue to which I cannot turn a blind eye, nor can any of us. I have discovered there are three things I can do:

1. Financially and prayerfully support community development work among poor communities overseas. Poverty is one of the biggest factors driving child labour. Helping communities lift out of poverty and recognise and respect the rights of their children will go a long way to combatting child labour. If you don’t do so already, I recommend sponsoring a child with Baptist World Aid Australia, whose child centred community development approach is one of the best you’ll find;

2. Buy ethically – wherever I can I will preference ethically traded goods, such as Fair trade certified tea and coffee;

3. Lend my voice to advocacy campaigns that are shining a light on poverty and child labour. I actively participate in the Micah Challenge and Stop the Traffik campaigns and have been thrilled to see the positive changes they have effected.

These are all relatively simple things for me to do, but if they can help put an end to child labour, for some children at least, I will be pleased.

Infographic on Child Labour

I ran a workshop on child labour last week and was prompted to make this infographic. The situation is disgraceful. Check out the infographic and consider doing something practical in response. Head over to Baptist World Aid Australia, learn about the brilliant child centred community development program and sponsor a child to support the program.


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