Despite global efforts and petitions from humanitarian groups, there are still many major companies around the world that employ child labour in order to make a profit. With overhead costs and an increasingly competitive market to think of, many major companies turn to young labourers in order to get their products made quickly, and incredibly cheaply. With business on their minds, however, these companies fail to recognise the humanitarian implications that their choices have. By funding child labour in the international business field, they make it the industry norm and in turn, grant permission for other companies to use the same workforces. While major charities are doing their best to change the world of child labour, it remains a key social challenge, no thanks to the involvement of certain international companies. Many companies actually make it their mission and part of their company culture not to employ child labor.
Although, as consumers, it might be easy to turn a blind eye to the world of child labour, it is something that deserves international attention and concern. These major companies might be doing great things in their field but, by using work crews of some of the youngest around, they are helping to fund a questionable and illicit industry. Drawing attention to their activity might be our best hope of making a real and lasting change.
Despite being one of the top confectionary companies in the world, Nestle has been noted for their consistent use of child labour. While they might be one of the major players in the food industry, Nestle still seem to be all about making a cheap buck, sourcing the least expensive workers and produce that they can get their hands on. In 2001, media sources revealed that the company had been using farms on the Ivory Coast in which 600,000 children had been kept in living conditions that were well below substandard.
Shockingly, Nestle kept on using the same farms for their produce right up until 2012, when a major report revealed just what was going on. While the company have pledged to change their ways, little has been reported on the issue since the announcement, something that continues to worry many consumers.
It shouldn’t come as much of a shock that retail giant H&M have been caught up in child labour scandals for some time. Renowned for their use of sweatshop factories, H&M have been involved in major humanitarian issues over the years, which have caused many people to reassess how they interact with the brand. In 2010, a Bangladeshi sweatshop which supplied H&M with their goods caught fire, leaving 21 workers dead. Although the brand apologised for their involvement in the issue, it is not clear whether or not they’re still involved in similar activity. While the company constantly pushes their eco-friendly image, it rarely does anything to draw attention to issues in the world of underage and illicit labour, a fact that seems to suggest that H&M is still very much using child workers in its production.
3. Philip Morris
Global cigarette giant Philip Morris is just one of many businesses to have come under attack for the use of both child and slave labour on its farms. According to reports, the company was employing at least 72 children on its farms under the age of ten at a time, keeping the young workers in incredibly poor working and living conditions.
As if the intense working hours and dangerous conditions weren’t bad enough, it was also revealed that the company had been forcing many of their workers into the field and confiscating their passports so that they had no means of escape. Despite intervention from the Human Rights Watch, Philip Morris failed to make any lasting changes, employing some of the youngest workers in the world for a mere pittance.
A budget Bazaar and American icon, Walmart is renowned for using questionable labour forces to get its hands on the cheapest products out there. While the company has confirmed nothing, Walmart has been caught up in a number of labour scandals over the last few years.
The collapse of a major Bangladeshi sweatshop was reported to have contained a large shipment of Walmart products, something that the company denied. Before the major accident, however, the company had been accused of employing child labourers to work up to 19 hours a day and only paying them roughly $20 per month. While the company has since reissued biannual ethics reports, it is still believed to be using sweatshops, having been involved in labour incidents as recently as 2013.
5. Victoria’s Secret
According to their company branding, Victoria’s Secret uses only fairtrade cotton in their products, helping to make a better life for workers in the poorest of conditions. The only trouble is that in this case, “fairtrade” comes with a pretty loose definition. On African farms, many “fairtrade” workers have complained that they lack both the funding and the resources to make a decent living from their work.
A thirteen-year-old girl revealed that she was made to sleep on plastic sheeting and was beaten by her boss if she didn’t perform sufficiently at work. Incredibly, Victoria’s Secret have hushed up the claims that they use fairtrade farms such as these, refusing even to read reports on the matter. For now, it looks like they’re burying their heads in the sand.
One of the most famous companies in the world, GAP have also been involved in some of the most scandalous labour issues around the globe. Investigations in child labour revealed that the company has knowingly outsourced a large amount of their production to sweatshops that employ workers as young as 8 years old. Like dozens of other businesses, it seemed as if GAP had made the unethical leap into the world of child labour as a way of cutting production costs and boosting their profits.
By employing underage workers in the US-owned Saipan, the company was able to bypass international laws and proclaim their products as being made in the U.S.A. While garments were made on American territory, they were done so by the hands of desperately poor women and children, forced to work in some of the worst conditions in the world, while receiving little to nothing in return from the company. GAP might technically make its products in the U.S.A., but it certainly doesn’t mind cutting corners here and there.
One of the most popular and lucrative brands in the world, Apple have not always had such a good public image. Back in 2010, the company came under major media scrutiny when it was revealed that it had been employing children as young as 15 in a number of its factories overseas. With the majority of its goods packaged in Asia, Apple has factories in Thailand, Malaysia, China, Taiwan and the Philippines. While the reports shone light on the company’s less than perfect ethics, it was not the first time that the brand had been accused of such underhand business moves. Over the years, Apple have built up something of a reputation as poor employers, funding factories in which poor working conditions and worker abuse are rife.
It might be a brand specifically marketed at children, but that hasn’t stopped Disney from using child labour to get their products in shops across the world. With a long and winding history in the world of sweatshop labour, Disney have been funding underhand factories for many years, getting caught up in a number of scandals along the way. With factories in countries like China, Bangladesh and Haiti, the company has been paying its employees as little as 33 cents per hour for working in appalling factory conditions. Young workers are very common, too; labourers as young as 14 are present in many of the company’s factories, made to work in substandard conditions with no benefits to speak of.
9. Forever 21
Purchasing cotton from child labourers tends to be a common theme in the world of retail and across the business board, many companies are tied up in arrangements that are less than ethical. Just another brand involved in child labour scandals is Forever 21. Despite having released statements in which they claim to work with ethical factory employers, the company have never stated that they do not employ young workers in their production lines. It only gets worse, too; the company sources the majority of its cotton from Uzbekistan, a country in which children are taken from schools and put to work in alarming conditions by the government. While Forever 21, along with others, has pledged to look into the labour conditions in Uzbekistan, nothing seems to have changed as of yet.
Bad publicity will really get consumers to sit up and listen and for a confectionary giant like Hershey’s, that’s not something that you want on your track record. The recent Super Bowl looked like it could be disastrous for the company, as the International Labour Rights Forum threatened to release an advert revealing Hershey’s involvement in child labour during the match.
The threat seemed to pay off somewhat; the company since invested $10million in ethical chocolate factories in West Africa. And while things might look better, they’re certainly not where they could be. After signing an anti-labour manifesto over ten years ago, the company continued to use child labour in their factories and despite their public protestations of innocence, it could be a while before Hershey’s get their act together.
Child labour remains one of the biggest issues of our time and while international humanitarian companies might be doing their best to turn things around, many companies continue to fund cheap labour and sweatshops in the production of their goods. While amnesty groups draw attention to the very worst cases, there is still an alarming rate going on and if we really want to make a change, we should pay attention to the products we buy, and the factories we fund as a result.
Are there any companies that you think should be added to the list? Please let us know below...