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Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and Sustainability

Some countries are infamous for their child labor issues. India and Bangladesh are unsurprisingly on this list along with countries such as Pakistan and Turkmenistan. In these countries, first in India and just a few months ago in Bangladesh, factories are starting to get involved to prohibit child labor. It has started to respond effectively to requests of the buyers in this particular area. A very common policy is now to forbid minors from being allowed within the factory limits.

This general situation leads to many consequences for workers. You may think of them, or read my own by following this link

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I believe it is on of the best initiate implemented not to let minor within factory limits. There is no price to high to pay for stopping child labor. Buyers should put upmost pressure on producer. No question.
I don't think it's considered discrimination, as you suggest, to not allow minors near factories but rather an aggressive step towards curbing the practice of child labor. It is important however to define what exactly is a "child" versus a "young person" and have some kind of standard across geographies that forces companies to comply with it.
I may have misunderstood but are you suggesting there should be no policy in place to avoid minors from working in factories?
I understand where you're going with this. Such a law affects almost every family in those countries I am sure, and there for there should be a program enstated to engage the children that are left jobless. The fact that these families are so desperate for money, that they need to take their children out of school to help bring home money to live is disheartening. Although, I must say, I completely disagree with children working at such a young age in horrible working conditions with relentless hours.
A better alternative for the government would be to invest in education so that families didn't have to pay to send their children to school, which is often what prevents them from attending.
I would be interested to see if the country has taken any action to address the issues that will come from puting so many children out of work. For many of them, they will still need to work, they just may do it illegally, and in much worse conditions such as prostitution, smuggling drugs, etc.

Buyers should put pressure on the company to not allow minors to work in their facilities, BUT perhaps also pressure them equally to give the children an alternative OR pay their parents fair wages so the children don't HAVE to work.
Thanks for so many comments.
It seems to me that many comments disagree with my opinion, thus I will try to make it clearer.
First, the difference between Child and young workers has to be clear. A child is a person below an age (usually 16 years old, but 14 years old in Bangladesh and some other countries, or 15 in some other ones). A young worker is a worker who is still minor (usually below 18 years old) but who is no more a child (over the legal age definition of child). Thus when I am talking of the consequences of the policy to forbid minor instead of child, I am focusing on the situation of those young who are no more a child, but not yet an adult.
In these countries being legally of age major is after being of age major socially. It is considered as normal to work at 16 years old, and actually most of the people work at this age. It is the opposite in western countries where the legal age is 18 years old, but where most of the person are actually still under their parents responsibility over 21 years old. Now let's image that factories, shops, ... get used in western countries to forbid persons below 21 years old to be hired. What would do all these persons, younger than 21, but no more child and who want and need to work? They will have to work in the parallel economy where their protection can't be granted. It is what the current practice does for Indian, Bangladeshis,... young (but no more child), and it is why I claim this rule is counter productive to improve working condition when forbid children could be sufficient and much more effective. (Nota forbid children leads to some other problems in some countries, but usually not in Indian subcontinent.)

I hope to have clarified my point and will welcome any questions.

Thanks for clarifying, makes more sense now. It's definitely a tricky situation but some compromise/standards certainly should be placed indeed.
This discussion was particularly interesting to me because in my Sustainable Business class we discussed child labor just yesterday. I obviously do not agree with child labor, but I also don't agree with the consequences brought on by children being banned from the workplace. Many times children are left to the streets and prostitution becomes an issue. Our debate in class centered around Nike, and whether or not Nike should have the right to tell a country what laws and limitations to set, or if the government is the one who needs to step in. Obviously in many countries, the government is out to exploit its citizens just as much as the companies are, yet what right does say Nike have coming in and setting the legal working age at 16, why not 15 or 14. I am not saying there should be no regulation against child labor, and as our society, the consumer, demands more social responsibility from the companies we buy from, we will see changes being made. I am glad developing countries are moving in the right direction when it comes to livable working conditions and regulations, but it is frustrating to find one solution causing a whole host of other problems.
In poor and overpopulated countries like India children do not really matter (they are not voters). Besides, even with any number of laws protecting children, banning child labor, etc, implementation is zero.

More importantly, it is just not enough to ban child labor (though its fashionable to cry hoarse about it) , but to first think of alternatives because most children will starve to death if they do not work.
To be blunt about it, let us hear the solutions that eradicate the root cause of the problem insead of the obvious stand about the issue of child labor. Why does it exist? If we look at this question, some of the answers will come surprisingly close to home.
Prohibiting children of some age from entering a factory or other workplace may sound like a good solution to some people but such a policy would create significant hardships for the parents and throw the children onto the street. Families in which all adult members work outside the home are common in all countries, developed, undeveloped and everywhere in between. A problem in many, if not most such families is: "What do you do with the kids?" Even in the United States (presumably a developed country) there are "latch-key children" who come home after school and either get glued to the TV tube or hang out with friends and get into trouble. In many places, spaces in public facilities or workplaces are set aside for kids to congregate under supervision. Regardless of who provides the space, the supervision and staffing can be provided by the workers acting cooperatively, communities, the government or even the workplace itself.

Prohibiting work by persons below 18 is a bad idea. For one thing, working during adolescence is good for promoting the development of children into responsible adults, not to say contributing to a family's economy. There should, of course be restrictions on various work situations at different ages, eg: no work with dangerous machinery below age 16, no night work, no work during school hours. (Until about 40 years ago in Massachusetts, girls below 18 were not allowed to sell newspapers on the street; newsboys were OK but not newsgirls.)

Just for the record, inappropriate work for children is not just a phenomenon in Bangladesh and India; it happened in Portland, Maine about 20 years ago. A Japanese company set up a sea urchin egg harvesting plant, hired local Vietnamese adults and paid them piece-work (so many dollars per kilo of eggs). The process involved putting the sea urchins in a tray with ice cold sea water running through them. A school nurse noticed that a number of Vietnamese children were showing up with frostbite. It turned out that the parents were bringing the kids into the plant to help them deliver more product and make more money. The employer was charged by the Labor Department with employing underage children, not paying them and subjecting all workers to unsafe and unhealthful working conditions.

P.S. Look in the CSR group on this website for a reference to The GAP's Code of Vendor Conduct which has very explicit rules for child labor throughout their supply chain. GAP monitors compliance at its vendors as well as their contractors and subcontractors. Companies that do not comply with the code can be canned. This is not the GAP telling a country what laws to enforce but telling its own suppliers what is acceptable performance. Presumably GAP doesn't want protesters telling the world that the company exploits poor children in developing countries.
Don't get me wrong, child labor is terrible but it's sometimes hard to compare the standards of developed countries to those of other less developed countries. It's terrible to have to see children working in harmful conditions but please tell me if I'm wrong, in most cases it's the children or the parents who find work the children can do in order to make some sort of money for the family. It's tough to just say they should prohibit it, but what if that was their only source of income? Would you allow it?
You're right that kids don't work just for fun. They're working to help the family provide the basic necessities and maybe a few pleasures. If a child were prohibited from working where would the money come from to replace the income that he would otherwise provide? The obvious answer is the child's employer and the his/her parent's employers. That additional cost would come from the employers' customers and all the way up the product chain to the ultimate consumers. Who in the chain would be willing to bear the cost? It frequently ends up being the consumer because he/she has the least control over what a product costs.

Nevertheless, I think it is worthwhile to work towards the ultimate goal of keeping children under 14 out of the workforce, except possibly for family owned businesses like farming and retail. This goal will never be achieved fully because there will always be greedy people in the value chain who feel that their cut of the money is the most important thing. However the effort should not be abandoned; every underage child who is removed from the workplace is a little triumph.


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