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WELCOME TO THE ARCHIVE (1994-2014) OF THE MAQUILA SOLIDARITY NETWORK. For current information on our ongoing work on the living wage, women's labour rights, freedom of association, corporate accountability and Bangladesh fire and safety, please visit our new website, launched in October, 2015: www.maquilasolidarity.org

Why do some companies employ children?

 Many of us remember media exposes of young children sewing Nike soccer balls in Pakistani sweatshops for six cents an hour. The national and international media coverage of Nike's use of child labour focused world attention on sweatshop abuses in the garment and sports wear industries.

Less well-known are the stories of teenage girls, oftentimes single mothers themselves, sewing clothes in maquiladora factories in Central America and Mexico for major North American retailers.

It's true that some of these teenagers -- 12 and 13 year olds -- are working illegally. But others -- 15 or 16 year olds -- are often legal employees, pressured to work excessively long and illegal hours that prevent them from finishing high school.

Whether underage workers or legal employees, these young people suffer the same treatment at the hands of their employers: 12 to 18 hour work days, often without overtime pay; verbal, physical, and sometimes sexual abuse; low wages and unhealthy working conditions.

Garment manufacturers in Central America's free trade zones, Mexico's maquiladora factories and Asia's export processing zones, claim they prefer to hire young girls and women because they have nimble fingers. Workers suspect that children and young people are hired because they are less likely to complain about illegal and unjust conditions. And more importantly, they are less likely to organize unions.

In fact, child labour is often directly linked to the low wages paid to adult workers, restrictions on the right to organize, and the lack of affordable child care. In Bangladesh, many child labourers in the garment industry are the children of women working in the same factories. If women workers received a living wage and/or their employer provided daycare, their children would not have to work.

Won't abolishing child labour just hurt working children and their families?

Abolishing child labour is our long-term objective, but in the short-term we have to be careful about taking actions that might make life worse for child labourers and their families. Without educational opportunities and transitional support, dismissed child labourers may end up working in more dangerous jobs or in unregulated underground garment factories.

An important first step is to gain commitments from companies to stop the hiring of new child labourers.

In cases where child labour is discovered, retailers and manufacturers should facilitate a gradual phasing out of the practice. Whenever possible, child labourers should be replaced by adult members of the same family. Companies should be pressured to provide transitional economic support for the children and their families.

What kind of regulations would protect the rights of children and youth?

Most countries already have regulations protecting the rights of young workers. In some countries laws are inadequate and need to be strengthened.

In other countries, good legislation is not enforced.

In Honduras for example, youth between 14 and 17 are legally permitted to work only six hours a day, and they are prohibited from working at night. They are also legally guaranteed the right to an education.

Learn more about child labour

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