15 Companies that Still Use Child Labor

Everyone’s got skeletons in their closet.

Reviewed by Chris Leitch

Child Labor companies

Despite global efforts and petitions from humanitarian groups, there are still many major companies who use child labor around the world — knowingly or otherwise — in order to make a profit.

As businesses rely on increasingly globalized supply chains, the ethical and legal practices of the contractors and subcontractors that they use can become murky. And while many of the organizations on this list make the right noises about ending such practices, the reality is that they need to take a lot more responsibility for how their products are sourced and manufactured.

We, as consumers, also have a responsibility. Although it might be easy to turn a blind eye to the situation, it is something that continues to deserve our scrutiny and concern — and taking a stance can start simply by finding out what companies use child labor.

These companies might be doing great things in their field, but by using work crews that include children, they are enabling the growth of an illicit and miserable industry. Drawing public attention to their activity — or lack of due to bad company culture, in many cases — might be our best hope of making a real and lasting change.

With this in mind, here are 15 companies that use child labor.

1. Nestlé


Despite signing an industry agreement in 2001 to eradicate child labor from their Ghana and Ivory Coast-based cocoa farms, Nestlé (one of the largest and most recognizable consumer brands in the world) continues to receive criticism for the ongoing employment abuses in their supply chain.

In 2005, a lawsuit brought against the company by former child workers led to a damning investigation by the Fair Labor Association — and although the confectionery giant subsequently introduced new measures to tackle the problem, clearly they have not worked.

Terry Collingsworth, the human rights lawyer who filed the original lawsuit, alleged in October 2018 that Nestlé had failed to meet its own eradication targets, with the US appeals court allowing his longstanding legal challenge to proceed.

The Swiss-based food producer also faced a separate class-action lawsuit from US human rights activist Dannell Tomasella, who claimed that the company was lying to consumers by failing to disclose their ongoing involvement in child labor. For their part, Nestlé acknowledged that the “risk of child labor” in its supply chain could not be “fully removed” but that they were “determined to tackle the problem”.

In late 2023, the International Rights Advocates group filed a federal lawsuit in an attempt to halt any and all imports of cocoa that’s been harvested by minors in West Africa, as the grave issue persists.

2. H&M


Swedish fashion retailer Hennes & Mauritz (better known as H&M) are no strangers to human rights controversies; they have faced allegations of neglect in regards to workers’ rights across its various production factories, while their sustainability practices have also drawn criticism in recent years.

Perhaps the most alarming charges levelled at the fast fashion giant, though, concern the reports that they have been using child labor in Myanmar, Bangladesh and Cambodia — and paying as little as 17 cents an hour for the privilege.

An alarming drop in their 2018 profits suggested that customer patience had begun to grow thin, but H&M seemed undeterred about their ethical and moral role in this process; in a public statement, the company was quick to point out that the legal working age in Myanmar is 14.

By 2023, however, the fashion retailer had announced that, upon careful consideration, they were to begin phasing out their operations in Myanmar entirely as reports of “labor abuses” in the country continued to increase.

3. Philip Morris

Philip Morris

The tobacco industry has long been comfortable in its role as public enemy number one, and it’s therefore unsurprising to find no less than three of its biggest players on this list; one of them, the US cigarette giant Philip Morris — which owns Marlboro — has a long history of exploiting children.

In 2010, the company admitted that children as young as 10 had been forced into labor on its contracted tobacco farms in Kazakhstan, with allegations by the Human Rights Watch suggesting that passports had been confiscated in order to prevent them escaping. The HRW also claimed that Philip Morris was then “slow” to implement their suggestions for tackling the issue.

Clearly, there were more ongoing issues with their providers elsewhere in the globe, too, with a Guardian investigation published in June 2018 alleging that child labor on the company’s contracted farms — particularly in Malawi — was “rampant”.

4. Microsoft


Despite Microsoft’s global reputation as both a top employer and a philanthropic pioneer, allegations surfaced in October 2018 that child labor was being used to extract cobalt for the company in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Investigators for Amnesty International claimed that children as young as 7 were mining the product in toxic and hostile conditions for 12 hours a day, carrying heavy loads and working without proper protective equipment.

Unsurprisingly, Microsoft moved quickly to address the allegations, producing a report in late 2018 that detailed the actions they had taken to eradicate this practice. Amnesty remained skeptical, though, stating that while there was “real evidence of change” on the ground in the DRC, there was still a “long way to go” to meet both their own concerns and international standards in general.

Today, the problem remains ongoing: “It's an issue that will take a coalition to solve,” said Microsoft of the conditions at Congolese cobalt mines in 2023.

5. Sports Direct

Sports Direct

Another global company that has struggled with its public image and perception, Sports Direct — and, in particular, its controversial owner Mike Ashley — have repeatedly come under fire for dubious employment practices; the UK-based clothing and sports equipment giant can now add child labor to its charge sheet.

The company’s Lonsdale clothing line — a key part of Sports Direct’s public brand — is produced in factories in Myanmar, with testimonies from workers detailing how the practice is rife. The company doesn’t seem too bothered, though, describing the workers’ statements as “anecdotal and uncorroborated”, before later claiming to condemn child labor practices.

6. British American Tobacco

British American Tobacco

Despite being the biggest listed tobacco company in the world (Lucky Strike, Pall Mall and Rothmans are among its brands), BAT has faced numerous accusations of enabling child labor practices. In 2016, reports surfaced of children working in hostile conditions on BAT tobacco farms in Bangladesh, something that the company stringently refutes.

Despite their protestations, concern is still present over the welfare of children and their labor use on BAT’s tobacco farms all over the world; Marty Otanez, an academic at the University of Colorado, claims that child labor is present “in every segment [of] the tobacco production process” and that BAT see any proposed changes as a threat to their annual profit sheets.

The company itself, meanwhile, seemed happy enough to continue turning a blind eye, despite the accusations put to them; speaking at its AGM in April 2018, chairman Richard Burrows claimed that BAT did “not [have] any questions to answer in respect of these issues”.

BAT’s sustainability goals, shared in 2023, state that the company continues to “aim for zero child labor and zero forced labor in [our] tobacco supply chain by 2025” — indicating an acknowledgment of the problem and highlighting how addressing it successfully has, so far, failed.

7. Apple


Apple has cultivated a reputation as an innovative brand, always at the forefront of technology and a dream job for many graduates and interns. But, perhaps unsurprisingly for a company that produces so many units, questions have been raised about what exactly goes on in its supply chain.

Following the discovery that a Chinese contractor was employing 74 minors in 2013, the company also admitted that its bestselling iPhone X product was being made by schoolchildren.

There were fresh claims in October 2018, too, of school students under the age of 18 being made to manufacture Apple Watches under the guise of a company “internship”. The contractor in question, based in southwest China, also manufactures products for other tech giants such as Dell, Amazon and Siemens.

The company says that it wants to end all child labor practices, although its contractors are still permitted to hire “interns” to work in such a way.

8. New Look

New Look

The UK-based fashion retailer is also involved in the Myanmar factory scandals that have bought H&M and Sports Direct into disrepute.

Unlike its competitors, though, New Look is at least willing to accept that there is an issue and have pledged to “work with suppliers and partners in Myanmar to address the findings”. This includes a remediation program in which underage workers are removed from factories, returned to school and reimbursed with a similar wage.

The company also claims to have let their suppliers know that they are “against” the use of Uzbek raw cotton due to child labor exploitation there, although by their own admission, they still place responsibility for the investigation of cotton sourcing in the hands of their contractors — not themselves.

9. JTI


Japan Tobacco International are also involved in the child labor cases involving tobacco farmers in Malawi; unlike their competitors, though, JTI buys the tobacco leaf directly, meaning it has a key say in the prices that are set and the conditions that workers operate in.

In the Guardian’s June 2018 report, researchers found that children worked at their family’s behest on the tobacco farms, a practice that was condoned by JTI (and other leaf buyers) with the justification that “handling dried tobacco is not considered as hazardous [as working with wet leaves]”.

Indeed, according to the report, JTI (and BAT) considered it not just acceptable, but even beneficial, for children between 13 and 15 to work on the farms, provided it is “light work, permitted by local law”.

It also pointed out that the JTI ARISE scheme has removed tens of thousands of children over the years from labor exploitation across the world — but with the figure increasing every year, we can only infer that the problem only continues to grow instead of slowing.

10. Hershey’s


Like Nestlé, the US-based confectionery giant Hershey’s has run into serious labor exploitation problems on their West African cocoa farms. And like Nestlé, they also faced legal action for their practices from Dannell Tomasella, who also targeted Mars.

Tomasella’s lawsuit — filed, as with the Nestlé case, by law firm Hagens Berman — claimed that Hershey’s have repeatedly abandoned any serious attempt to implement the Harkin-Engel Protocol of which they are signatories, resulting in widespread child labor practices on their supply farms.

The company, which sells popular confectionery including Kit Kats, Peppermint Patties and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, argued that it “does not tolerate, and is committed to preventing, child labor across the entire supply chain”. But according to Tomasella and his legal advisors, Hershey’s has simply not been doing enough.

“They will never stop until they are forced to”, added International Rights Advocates’ executive director Terry Collingsworth in reference to candy makers like Hershey’s and Mars, upon his nonprofit’s filing a federal lawsuit in 2023 to halt West African cocoa imports.

11. Mars

Mars Wrigley

In November 2023, CBS News ran an investigation into Mars’ supply chain, discovering that children as young as 5 years old harvest some of the cocoa beans that end up in the chocolate giant’s candies, including Snickers and M&Ms.

The conditions in which the Ghanan children were forced to work were appalling, too: blistering hot temperatures, with the minors yielding machetes “nearly as big as themselves” to collect the beans.

Following cues from a whistleblower, the CBS News team traveled to the West African country and was able to confirm that children were indeed working on the farms that supply Mars with cocoa beans, despite the company having previously vowed to completely eliminate child labor from its supply chain by 2025. Time is certainly running out.

12. Hyundai


A Reuters investigation found that at least four major suppliers for Hyundai and Kia Motors have used child labor in their US-based factories in recent years. Besides the four which were confirmed, however, an additional six factories were probed by state and federal agencies for the same violation.

According to the late 2022 report, children as young as 12 years old worked in the Alabama-based plants, with one former engineer stating that he had worked with “at least 10 minors” in the past. Similar statements were made to Reuters by a further six former plant employees.

As far as the suppliers themselves (namely Hwashin America Corp and Ajin Industrial Co) were concerned, both made near-identical statements via a mutual public relations firm, claiming to not have hired underage workers “to the best of [their] knowledge”.

13. Perdue Farms

Perdue Farms

In late 2023, the New York Times made public the findings of an investigation into child labor being used in the poultry industry. Specifically, the investigation showed that migrant children as young as 14 have been working in plants as overnight cleaning staff — plants owned by the likes of Perdue Farms and Tyson Foods.

As anyone can rightly assume, the working conditions in meat company facilities are extremely dangerous and inappropriate for children, with health hazards all around in the form of industrial-strength cleaning agents, razor-sharp saws and even animal remains such as blood and grease — sights and perils no minor should become exposed to under any circumstances.

In a statement, Perdue Farms claimed to have “strict, longstanding policies in place” to prevent children from working in such conditions, and added that they hold their contractors to the same standards.

14. Tyson Foods

Tyson Foods

Meatpacking giant Tyson Foods Inc faced federal investigation in late 2023 alongside Perdue Farms, after the New York Times published its investigation showing that underage migrant workers have been employed by contractors at their meat processing plants.

According to Business Insider, the Department of Labor stated that, in a five-year period, illegal child labor has seen a dramatic increase (69%). Tyson Foods also rejected a request for comment from Insider.

A comment was made by US Solicitor of Labor, Seema Nanda, however. “We are long past the day when brands can say that they don’t know that they have child labor in their supply chain”, she stressed.

15. McDonald’s


McDonald’s: the fast-food restaurant chain that feeds some 70 million people around the world every single day. To be able to do this, the global foodservice retailer is estimated to have a workforce of approximately 2 million employees, with an estimated 150,000 here in the US.

Sadly, that vast pool of workers has been found to include minors. More specifically, some 300 children were illegally employed at several McDonald’s locations according to an investigation of Kentucky-based franchises by the Labor Department. Some of the children received “little or no pay”, said PBS who covered the story, reporting also that the minors were often working long hours, past midnight and into the early hours of the morning.

In response to the investigation, McDonald’s USA spokeswoman Tiffanie Boyd said the reports were “unacceptable, deeply troubling and run afoul of the high expectations [we] have for the entire McDonald’s brand.”

Final thoughts

Addressing child labor and completely eradicating it remains one of the biggest challenges of our time. And while international humanitarian organizations might be doing their best to turn things around, many companies continue to fund cheap labor 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 entries on this list of child labor companies that surprise you? Do you know of any others involved in child labor that should be added to the list? Let us know in the comments section below.

Originally published on October 10, 2016. Updated by Electra Michaelidou.

Any views or opinions expressed within this article are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of CareerAddict and/or DeltaQuest Media Limited.