Teaching citizenship: Work and the economy
Teaching citizenship: Work and the economy

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Teaching citizenship: Work and the economy

5 Child labour: a case study

An interesting, controversial but important topic in the debate about corporate social responsibility and Global Corporate Citizenship is the issue of child labour.

According to estimates released in April 2002 in Every child counts: New global estimates on child labour (Geneva, ILO), there were:

  • some 352 million children (aged 5–17) engaged in some form of economic activity in the world in 2000, including 211 million in the age group 5–14;

  • the Asia-Pacific region has the largest number of child workers in the 5–14 age category at 127.3 million;

  • it is followed by Sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America and the Caribbean with 48 million and 17.4 million, respectively.

As the statistics above demonstrate, child labour makes a major contribution to global production. It has also been heavily implicated in the criticisms of the activities of MNCs, which have been accused of exploiting child labour in their production chains (Naomi Klein No Logo , and other anti-globalisation publications).

In addition, of course, child labour – if in a mild form – is still with us in the advanced countries, since school children often have jobs, as mentioned above. Thus, this could make a useful case study, bringing global and domestic considerations together. The section on Worker rights in this course pursues this theme further by looking directly at the historical evolution and the contemporary characteristics of rights at work in the UK.

All the main arguments and issues associated with child labour in the international context are rehearsed in the PowerPoint slide show presentation included as part of Activity 3. All the initiatives and conventions associated with eliminating this practice are detailed in ‘The Response’ part of that presentation.

Activity 3

The ILO is an excellent source of material on child labour, through its ‘International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour’. Click here to access this area of the ILO website.

In addition, UNICEF has a programme associated with fostering the rights of children. Access the UNICEF website here .

The ILO is one of the leading bodies that campaigns internationally against child labour (see ILO: International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour). The ILO has produced a very comprehensive slide show which deals with all the issues involved. Please note this is a rather lengthy presentation with 132 slides; it is divided into two main sections ‘The Problem’ and ‘The Response’. The first section is the longest, and is itself divided into five sub-sections.

You can either watch the file below or click 'lauch player' to view it in another window. Child labour: the problem, the response

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I suggest you could divide the class into several smaller groups which are asked to concentrate on one section or sub-section each, and report what they have learned to the rest of the class in turn.

The specific issues at stake here are:

  • The extent of child labour.

  • Its causes.

  • Its relationship to ‘globalisation’.

  • The response to it in terms of initiatives and campaigns.

  • The historical perspective.

The ‘historical perspective’ issue is returned to in the next section, where the question of child labour in Victorian Britain is used as a way of discussing different values and circumstances in determining attitudes towards, and the meaning of, ‘citizenship’.

A key question arises here. If there are long-established international conventions, why does abuse and child labour exist on such a scale?

A discussion on this subject can be accessed below. You will also find some useful web links in this document.

Click 'view document' below to download Why child labour?

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