Time to get children out of factories and into schools
August 31st, 2014
11:08 PM ET

Time to get children out of factories and into schools

By Nina Smith

Editor’s Note: Nina Smith is the founding CEO of GoodWeave International, a Washington DC-based non-profit organization that works to stop child labor in the carpet industry.

In a small village in central Afghanistan, 13-year-old Basma is about to start her first day of school –- ever.

She’s a world away from the millions of western children who are now heading back to their classrooms for a new school year.

Only weeks before, Basma was found working on a carpet loom. Her weaving fingers already showed signs of arthritis from holding tools since the age of nine, tying knots for 14 hours a day.

She was rescued by GoodWeave, an international organization I head in the U.S. that seeks to eliminate child labor in carpet manufacturing.

According to the International Labour Organization, there are 168 million child laborers like Basma around the world, forced to sacrifice their youth and their education.

Many of these boys and girls manufacture the very items that American consumers will have purchased this Labor Day weekend in anticipation of the new academic year –- as well as other parents across the world.

The U.S. National Retail Federation estimates that parents will spend $26.5 billion this back-to-school shopping season.

Some of their purchases will include clothes stitched in Bangladeshi factories not far from Rana Plaza, the factory complex that collapsed last year, killing more than 1,100 garment workers including some who were underage.

But a significant share of these dollars will go on electronics, including devices from Apple, which has been working to tackle child labor in its supply chain in China.

The causes of child servitude are not straightforward and neither are the solutions.

Half of all child slaves are toiling in Asia, in poverty-stricken regions where government-funded school systems are broken, violence against women and children prevails, rule of law is non-existent and caste and economic discrimination are so intractable that even some victims believe their destiny is to serve those “above” them.

But the situation is improving. The total number of child laborers declined by about 22% between 2008 and 2012, from 215 million.

A range of solutions supported by governments, corporations, NGOs and consumers have made a difference.

For example, after Apple’s manufacturing process was exposed in 2012, the company improved its factory monitoring program in China, requiring outside monitors to inspects its suppliers’ factories.

Apple began publishing a list of its suppliers and working with Chinese labor rights advocates. It joined the Fair Labor Association, and has worked closely with the nonprofit Verité to tackle labor trafficking, a common problem in overseas labor recruitment.

In California, the state passed the Transparency in Supply Chains Act in 2010. The law applies to any manufacturer or retailer doing business in the state with annual worldwide gross receipts over $100 million.

It requires them to publicly disclose whether and how they are addressing human trafficking and slavery in their supply chains. A similar bill was introduced to the U.S. Congress by Representative Carolyn Maloney, a New York state Democrat, this summer.

Supply chain transparency laws empower consumers to make responsible choices, and so do strategies like product certification.

Basma’s story illustrates this. The rugs she was weaving were destined for a U.S. company that is part of the GoodWeave certification program.

The company tasked GoodWeave with ensuring that no child was exploited anywhere in its supply chain. They exposed their entire network of informal rug producers to GoodWeave’s rigorous system of continuous random inspections. Basma was found during one such inspection.

In exchange for this supply chain transparency, the company’s rugs bear the GoodWeave symbol, a signal to consumers of the products’ ethical origins.

But for Basma and girls across Afghanistan, where the female literacy rate is a dismal 12% according to the U.N., and the Taliban still harasses schoolgirls, the stakes of holding a pencil are high.

For the many activists around the world dedicated to ending child servitude and achieving universal primary education, getting children back to school is not only for September, but a year-round struggle.

To honor the 168 million girls and boys who are still not able to pick up that pencil, GoodWeave is releasing a three-minute video called Stand with Sanju, about one Nepalese girl, rescued from slavery in a carpet factory, who became the first person in her family to go to school.

It is part of a global campaign that offers a range of concrete ways citizens can Stand with Sanju and help eliminate child labor –- by shopping responsibly, supporting legislation and more.

Topics: Business • How to Help • Life In Slavery

soundoff (10 Responses)
  1. HKBOY

    How about getting US kids out of NCAA slavery?

    September 1, 2014 at 12:02 am | Reply
  2. DLV

    It's a fine sentiment. But into schools to prepare them for a life of wage slavery. Schools prepare children to sit for hours, obey their 'superiors' and mostly stop thinking for themselves. Perfect little droids for the working world.

    People are never going to leave one another alone but will seek to create hierarchy whenever two or more are gathered. In a perfect world one could opt out of this wage slavery cycle.

    September 1, 2014 at 8:56 am | Reply
    • DeJon

      I am currently in school and im 14 years old. IN my school which is number 4 in the has me constantly thinking about my own future. It also teaches us that if you work hard enough you wont have to be in a white collar job but do what ever you put your mind to.

      September 3, 2014 at 8:49 pm | Reply
      • Backtalker

        Excellent. What they neglect to tell you though is that you will have a rough time being promoted from within without a degree. Regardless if you are super intelligent and know the ins and outs of your profession, they will hire some clueless individual of the street 90% of the time because he has a piece of paper saying he paid his dues. You may or may not like school. But I suggest you get an extended education until the model can be changed.

        While everything is innocent for the most part now, never accept what you see or hear. And do not fall into a two-party mentality in regards to voting.

        September 4, 2014 at 6:56 am |
  3. Kevin H

    Let me make an unpopular prediction after I say that the horrors of child labor are forgotten in the US and the UK and elsewhere because child labor for the most part was eliminated in those places. But in the developing world it is very common and without it some families would starve – including the children. Here is my prediction – if the US does not change its approach radically – within 40 years or less – our children will labor as these do now because our entire social fabric will come undone. There's this notion that the West is somehow going to thrive forever. My opinion is that our downfall is close at hand. This is happening for many reasons but one important reason is that our population is growing and our middle class is gone. Our thick middle class and our good credit meant that consumerism could thrive. But now the middle class has eroded in their place are the working poor – and it will take more and more effort just for those people to subsist. There will be no disposable income. And there won't be enough mass numbers in terms of the wealthy to keep the society booming so the entire thing will crumble and collapse. The US will need to rethink its economic and social policies – because if we continue with the present two-party system or if we fall to the misguided fringe – the communists, the socialists and so on – we will fail. The West must create a new model that is at once more equitable and less wasteful and builds on the future not the past. As long as the rest of the world outinnovates and outproduces us – we will continue our downward spiral. Why does it seem we're succeeding? The boiling frog – we're in the midst of it and the metrics which we use – which are contemporary – very contemporary don't tell the future picture very well. And we've never seen a picture like this so we can't use stochastic modeling to think our way out of it. No paradigm shift and my prediction is the US will have a whole class of children like the ones here.

    September 1, 2014 at 8:23 pm | Reply
  4. Karissa Leifker

    Human Trafficking is a problem all over the world and it is awful to see a child such as that little girl have to put to work instead of playing on the swings. Human trafficking is spanned in all different ways this way takes these kids and makes them adults when they are suppose to be kids working instead of playing. I can`t believe apple has been apart of this and it sadden me to see how this is going on but it is bringing me some light to see that the government it trying to do something to stop this by passing that act to keep kids from doing this. It is sad to think that many kids won`t be able to get the education they need to be what they want to be or to even experience the school life.

    September 7, 2014 at 11:05 pm | Reply
  5. voraciouswriter

    The video was very touching....stand with Sanju..it reminds me of my child hood friend...who worked in this weaving industries

    September 8, 2014 at 10:07 am | Reply
  6. femke

    I agree that the US is doing more and more to prevent human trafficking. The continuous random inspections of businesses suspected of involvement in illegal trafficking has helped to release thousands of children from horrid conditions. This is a global problem with more slaves than even the transatlantic salve trade.

    September 8, 2014 at 11:29 pm | Reply
  7. rick

    Im VERY GLAD that the mention of the "caste" system was shown in this article. And there is only ONE area of world the caste hierarchy is still enforced. And the extreemly poor engineers and doctors from there are apparent. It doesnt matter that a person of much better quality has any opertunity to become a doctor or skilled worker. Its the caste system that constantly is only allowed to. Like its a right for only the so called upper caste. Thats why most avoid any contact with them in civilized world. And their education they claim is shown to be middle ages in equivelent. One joke was to send a wood outhouse over there with a roll of toilet paper. And watch them scratch their heads trying to figure out what its used for or reverse engineer it..! Extreemly bad when their are more cell phones than restrooms in that country! And thats a 100% FACT.. Running water? Whats that? And the arrogance shown by them.? Im guessing it dont register that a part time worker at McDonalds in america is higher educated..!

    September 12, 2014 at 7:37 am | Reply

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