By Staff Writer Claudia Bonitatibus
There are many things that we take for granted in America today because we are unaware of the struggles in the past that won us the privileges that we now enjoy. One of these privileges that we take for granted is that working conditions in the United States are much better than those in other parts of the world.
In many parts of the world, particularly in less developed countries where poverty and starvation are constant threats, the presence of children working in grueling and unsafe conditions, often in sweatshops, is a constant danger. While we rarely consider child labor to be a major problem these days even in other parts of the world, the truth is that America is just one of the more fortunate continents, as child labor is an ever present threat to the wellbeing of many of the world’s children.
Child labor is particularly prevalent in Ethiopia, Pakistan, Burundi, Zimbabwe, Afghanistan, Sudan, North Korea, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Somalia, and Burma. All of these places use minors, often as young as four years old, for different types of jobs or manual labor, whether that be for large corporations or for the black-market. Typically these children come from more rural areas and could not afford an education. Many children are put to work mining for riches, such as gold or gems, in extremely dangerous conditions.
Child labor is directly associated with the mining of blood diamonds. This is what puts Democratic Republic of the Congo in the list of countries that are the least sensitive towards child labor. There are estimated to be about a million workers in all of Africa whose wages do not even approach the minimum wage. They earn in some cases less than one dollar a day. Even though there are minimum wage laws in most of these places, they are hardly ever enforced. 30% of the mining in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is done by child labor. The Democratic Republic of the Congo holds 64% of the existing Coltan, which is required for electronics. The resources that the Democratic Republic of the Congo possesses have been the cause of many wars.
There are many large corporations, such as Urban Outfitters and Toy’s R Us, who both admitted to using cotton from farms in Uzbekistan that used child labor. In Burkina Faso there were cotton farms that Victoria’s Secret is known to buy from. However, this cotton farm claimed to be fair trade, but as it turns out, that was a false claim. Cotton farms are not the only connection between large companies and underage workers.
In 2001 Nike claimed that they did not own sweatshops, but intensive investigations lead to the discovery that they were using underage workers in Pakistan to produce their soccer balls. Nike produced 80% of soccer balls in the world making this scandal even more severe. They had workers hand stitching them for less than a hundred dollars per month, about three dollars per day. Pakistan previously had a problem with child labor, having more than 3 million minors below age 14. These minors were working long hours in factories to produce expensive Nike soccer balls for much less than minimum wage.
While we would like to believe that the problem of the exploitation of children is no longer a concern, we would be wrong. It is still a very prominent issue in many parts of the world. The most important thing that we can do address this problem is to educate ourselves and those around us to become more aware of the issue. We should monitor the companies we buy from by fully researching their employment practices before we purchase their products. We should be confident that we can be part of the solution and that big problems can be solved with many small actions.