June 12 is World Day Against Child Labour. Let’s take a moment to reflect on the exploitation of children and what action we can take.
The International Labour Organization (ILO) defines child labour as work that harms young people physically, mentally or socially, or interferes with their schooling. At its worst, it involves exposure to hazards, separation from families and even enslavement.
This is not someone else’s problem. Canada is directly linked to child labour through the supply chains of the products we use every day.
In 2017, the ILO estimated there were some 152 million children labourers between the ages of five and 17. Of that number, almost half performed hazardous work. In the world’s poorest countries, an average 29 per cent of children are forced into work.
They make products we use every day: clothes, shoes and cosmetics. They take apart toxic electronics and deep-dive for fish. They weave rugs and make bricks. They work in mines. They become child soldiers and victims of commercial child sexual abuse. The list goes on and on.
The theme for 2020, “Protect children from child labour, now more than ever,” reflects grave concerns around the pandemic. The lockdown has hit Canada’s economy, but think about the impact on the world’s poorest. When the choice is starvation or child labour, many vulnerable families are forced to send their kids to work, even where laws exist to prevent it.
What can we do? Ask manufacturers, particularly clothing manufacturers, what they are doing to ensure children are not working in their factories. Buy fair trade and sweatshop-free products. Invest in ethical funds. Contribute to an organization that fights child labour. Tell your MP more needs to be done to stop companies from allowing their products to be produced using child labour.
If taking a stand saves just one child, it will have been worth it.
Warren (Smokey) Thomas, President of OPSEU
Eduardo (Eddy) Almeida, OPSEU First Vice-President/Treasurer