A Closer Look at Child Labor: Supply Chain Shame.

168 million.

168 million children worldwide, between ages 5–17, are subjected to, forced, and/or exploited for their labor according to the statistics of (ILO) International Labour Organization.

168 million… That’s more than half the population of the United States.

Of this 168 million, 85 million are conducting their work in hazardous conditions (theowp.org).

The reasoning behind resorting to the use of child labor varies; war, poverty, exploitation for profitability, slavery, industrial revolution, lack of resources and the list goes on from there. One thing remains the same no matter the causation:

Exploitation of child labor is unlawful, unruly and unacceptable.

Business’ worldwide, including several elite brands, have been caught in the crossfires of past year’s media exposure due to the existence of child labor in their supply chains. The typical responses follows the incident: ‘We had no idea. Our company is truly horrified by this discovery. We are working towards a solution. This type of working conditions doesn’t at all reflect the values of our corporation.’

This kind of neglectful ownership of responsibility perpetuates the idea that big business has little to no control and/or no knowledge of the calamities that can be taking place in their supply chains.

In reality, there is 168 million reasons supply chains, worldwide, need to start taking notice, but moreover, action.

The Industrial Revolution

In the 18th and 19th centuries, Industrial Revolutions brought about the need for finding a means of cheap labor (theowp.org).

When business wasn’t able to find work from adults, they turned to the labor of children to fill the shoes, or at least half of the shoes.

Children faced work on a daily basis rather than going to school or gaining an education. Making ends meat became the new normal for many children worldwide as their needs and means of a childhood fell by the wayside.

Newsflash: The Industrial Revolution is no longer revolutionary!

In year 2017, we have laws that protect child labor from extreme work hours, exploitation and dangerous working conditions.

Today, there are world-recognized organizations (ILO, UNICEF, United Nations etc.) that keep child-labor prevention on the top of their agendas.

Despite these organizations valiant efforts and passed legislation, unlawful child labor still exists. But these laws and organizations can’t be expected to win the fight against child labor exploitation alone. It must be an effort unified between institutional and individual entities.

Profitability vs. Humanity

Children who are involved in child labor operations don’t choose to be child workers; they are byproducts of their environments and victims of their circumstance.

Geographical locations and political landscapes play a large role in the practicing of child labor.

For example, Bangladeshi clothing manufacturers follow governmental anti-child labor laws very loosely (theowp.org). In Sierra Leone’s rural economy, child-labor, known as “half shovels” are used to aid the ASM (artisanal and small-scale mining) industry (Maconachie 2016). Chinese technology manufacturers have had reports of children being used to lift overweight objects (Coates 2016).

Source: YouTube; ucannews

It may come as a shock, but some of these unlawfully employed child-laborers took part in the production cycle and supply chain which delivered you the computer you’re reading this article on, the pendant on your necklace and the shirt on your back.

The profitability of child labor exploitation holds weight behind its existence. Whether it is a deliberate action of sub-suppliers, the head turning of suppliers and buyers, or the neglectfulness of consumers to buy fair-trade, the continuance of child labor as a means of profitability is a stain on the evolution of humanity.

How to avoid Supply Chain Shame

At an industrial level, businesses, especially buyers, first-tier suppliers and retailers, need to lead by example; creating zero-tolerance standards for child labor as a means of production.

As written in a blog by Coca Cola company, […there is no quick fix, and companies can benefit from learning from each other’s experience and initiating joint efforts” (Smith 2016).

Active prevention, and ongoing reflection is a good starting point for businesses worldwide to take on child labor in unison.

ILO’s Director-General, Guy Ryder, has created a short list of practices companies can implement:

Free, compulsory and quality basic education at least up to the minimum age for work;
Adoption and enforcement of good laws and policies, with cooperation between labour inspection, the education system and other public services; and
Social protection, which was a main driver of the one-third reduction in child labour globally between 2000 and 2012.

(Ryder 2016)

These suggestions call on businesses to have stronger governance, compliance and transparency over their supplier base and supply chains. This type of resurgence takes company wide acceptance and, at times, the aid of a 3rd party.

Kodiak Community plans on returning to this topic later in the year. We plan on discussing the opportunities SCM poses to global supply chains as a means of child labor prevention.

Until next week… Buy Fair Trade.


This publication is brought to you by author Sam Jenks, but also on part by Kodiak Rating — A Supplier Relationship Management SaaS functioning out of Stockholm, Sweden. Kodiak Community intends to challenge traditional business practices with innovative thinking and creation.