Home Campaigns Stop Child Labour Resources
What can be done about child labour?
There are many approaches, and no single magic solution. Here are some suggestions.
1. Prioritise primary education
It is no coincidence that the countries where child labour is worst are those that spend least on primary education. Primary education should be free, compulsory, well-resourced, relevant and nearby. It is much easier to monitor school attendance that to inspect factories and workshops. Sponsoring a child doesn't solve this problem - it might make us feel good, but it only helps educate one child, isolating them from others in their community.
2. Regulate global trade
The World Trade Organisation (WTO) is the international body charged with overseeing and enforcing the rules of world trade as drawn up during the four decades of GATT negotiations.
Given the impact that globalisation combined with economic rationalist policies have had on workers' wages, conditions, safety standards and basic rights, the global union movement is calling for additional regulation of international trading laws.
Trade unions globally are pushing for a set of rules stipulating the minimum labour standards to be included in the rules of world trade enforced by the WTO. Including core labour standards would enforce several key ILO Conventions such as the right for workers to join a trade union and bargain collectively, and the banning of child labour, as well as banning slave labour, prison labour and discrimination in the workplace.
3. Get rid of poverty
Many things are needed to overcome global poverty, but two urgent steps are:
a) Get rid of Structural Adjustment Programs (SAPs):
When a country has a balance of payments difficulty, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) implements a SAP for that country. This IMF program usually demands cuts to government social spending such as health and education, spending cuts which impact hardest on the poorest.
b) Restructure Third World Debt.
The repayments of the poorest and most indebted countries should be redirected into spending on local health and education rather than to Western bankers. An international campaign aims to cancel the debts of the poorest countries - see the Jubilee Australia website for details and to get involved.
4. Strengthen unions
Trade unions also play a crucial role in preventing and eliminating child labour. Adult workers who have the right to organise, negotiate and bargain for a living wage do not have to send their children to work. Where strong unions exist, child labour is diminished. Unions not only strongly oppose child labour on the grounds of social justice, they also resist the hiring of children at wages that undermine their own.
5. Consumer education
As consumers, we are the driving force behind the global economy - let's drive it the right direction. We can raise awareness, we can question stores about the labour conditions under which their goods were made, and we can demand proper labelling. If they can tell us what's in a product, they can also tell us who made it. Where labelling exists (eg, Rugmark for hand woven carpets) support these products. Pester multinational companies to adopt codes of conduct for themselves and their subcontractors.
6. Ban the worst forms of child labour
Demand the government support the ILO Convention 182 banning the worst forms of child labour such as bonded labour, work in heavy industry or with dangerous substances and commercial sexual exploitation.
7. Give the jobs of child workers to their adult relatives
This way, the family does not suffer, and indeed should be better off, as adult wages are generally much higher than child wages.
8. Campaign on specific industries
It's hard to take on the whole global economy, so just work industry by industry. Recent ACTU and international union campaigns have involved sporting goods made by child labour, medical instruments made by children (often exported to Australia) and the gem polishing industry in India where children polish diamonds, often sourced from Australia's Argyle diamond mine. Another recent campaign has involved the role of children in citrus juice production in Brazil.
9. Join the Fair Wear campaign
Where exploitative child labour does exist in Australia, it is predominantly in the outsourced clothing industry. The Fair Wear Campaign is a coalition of unions, churches and community organisations. It works in association with the Textile, Clothing & Footwear Union and uses consumer pressure to fight for the rights of all homebased outworkers. Contact the Fair Wear Campaign for further details.
10. Education and training for women
All studies show that when women are educated, trained and empowered, the incidence of labour by their children, especially girl children, drops dramatically. Your union's overseas aid agency, Union Aid Abroad-APHEDA - has many projects assisting skills training for women. Support them.
11. Our overseas aid
The Australian government's overseas aid budget is approximately $1.8 billion per year. This should give it leverage to encourage other governments to enact and enforce adequate legislation banning child labour. We need to demand that a greater share of this budget goes to non-government aid agencies for primary education and teacher training, rather than to big, for-profit companies and to subsidising middle class students to study in our universities.
12. Get more data
While the ILO has collected a lot of data on child labour in recent years, there are still many gaps. We need more data especially in those "hidden" areas such as domestic servants, on farms or with home-based out-workers.
Union Aid Abroad - APHEDA
Ph: (02) 9264 9343
Fax: (02) 9261 1118