In this paper, the main focus will be on child labour and the issues surrounding the topic. I will consider how businesses behave in regards to child labour, both from a business and an ethical point of view. There are two key arguments; should businesses utilise cheap labour to lower production costs? Or do they have a duty of care in order to prevent children being exploited within their business?
For the purpose of this essay I will examine various theories in conjunction with how businesses apply them. For example, I will analyse the Milton Friedman theory of business, in regards to multinational companies, and how it affects their behaviour towards child labour. Other theories to be considered include Marxism, Egoism and Ethics of Right.
In conclusion I will assess how companies behave towards the issue of child labour; as an ethical and financial advantage, or as an unethical view.I will also give contemporary examples of child employment.
Often child labour is confused with child work but Whittaker claims that there is a clear distinction. For example, a child performing a newspaper delivery before going to school is a child worker:
However, child labour is defined as:
Michael Lavalette (1994) explains that child labour exists because of two reasons:
This suggests that when labour is in high demand and there are insufficient adult workers, businesses tend to use children as a back up.
This means that child employment occurs mainly in poverty and where the children have to support their family financially.
Many people frown upon this exploitation of children. But one must consider to what extent is child employment justified?
Many children in poverty try to avoid stressors such as violence, sexual or emotional abuse. One of the easiest ways for children to avoid these stressors is by engaging in active labour. Thus, from a child's point of view, it can be justified for children should work to in order to avoid being emotionally, sexually or violently abused.
Consideration must be given to the employer's view. Due to globalisation, outsourcing has become a trend in businesses. By outsourcing, it is possible for firms to exploit wage differentials around the world. This then allows for production at a much lower cost, and therefore maximises business profit. However, this approach is argued to be very unethical and shows how profit driven business objectives relate to the the Milton Friedman concept:
This indirectly suggests that in order to lower costs and to promote profit maximising prospects that arise with globalisation, businesses need to take advantage of these global opportunities, otherwise they may be forced out of the market by other competitive firms,
This further supports that
This gives further weight to the argument that
All of the quotes above interlink with each other to explain why companies use children as a cheap form of labour.
The majority of companies believe survival is essential in a globalised economy and therefore they exploit these conditions to fulfil outsourcing opportunities, because they. The majority of child labour is said to occur in Asia.
Some children are exploited to do certain adult jobs because they can perform the task more effectively and efficiently
This is a way of decreasing wage costs because children are doing adult work, but are not being paid the adult wage. The managers are able to exert more control and authority over children, because they are less likely to retaliate in comparison to adult workers who are aware of their employment rights.
This is very money driven based business and can be related to the ethical theory of consequnetialist, a consequence based approach, the egoism theory.
Which in this case the self interest would be profit. This can relate to child labour as all they care about is lowering costs and increasing sales to increase profit not human rights of children. This deduces that they ARE self motivated by money (self interest) hence following the egoism theory.
However Lavalette stated that Fyfe and Whittaker suggested
Businesses can see child labour to be an advantage not only because of lower costs, but as it is taking children off the streets. They support children by providing a job and maybe even benefits (depending on the company). This gives the company an ‘ethically moral image' because they are seen to be providing child employees with basic needs. This helps the children lead a healthy life, which they may not receive by living on the streets.
Moreover, by companies not employing children, there is a danger that they could be out on the streets and involved in prostitution, drugs or crime.
And as a result of employing children it is shown that
However not all child employees live on the street, some also hold the responsibility of their family's well being instead.
Moreover, this supports that
Furthermore, it gives the employer the image that they are helping children who have the burden of caring for their families. Furthermore, this extends the good corporate image, which, as a result could increase sales. This is because there is a greater awareness of this exploitation, but some see the advantages for the children and therefore promote the cause by purchasing the products to keep the children in a job and not in poverty or on the streets. However people's perspective tends to differ.
This give weight to the idea that all the advantages that both businesses and children gain from child labour, whether it keeps children off the streets or to support their family, or businesses gaining cheap labour would be removed by legislation to abolish child labour. This is not necessarily the right thing to do depending on what people's perceptions are; whether children need to survive through active employment, or the fact that they are just children and that they should live like a child and not be required to undertake the stresses and physical damage working does to a child.
This leads onto the next argument, that companies should help abolish child exploitation and should hold ethical and social responsibilities.
Some companies avoid child labour because they want to be known as socially responsible. An example; GAP, in October 2007 a ten year old was found in the back streets in New Delhi the conditions were quoted by the Observer to be ‘close to slavery', he was sold by his parents to the sweatshop making gap toddler clothing. But as Gap wants to be known as socially responsible their policy they enforced was:
The only reason that this unethical employment of children wasn't revealed any sooner to Gap was that they were subcontracting companies who hired child labour however they did say that they still hold fully responsible;
This is an example of taking corporate social responsibility which gives the company a better image.
Other revelations of companies associated with child labour include Primark - which took actions and decided not to trade with the suppliers anymore and took their clothing off the shelf. Nike also established rules to increase the minimum age workers to 18 in Asian footwear factories and to offer free educational classes and to improve the air quality of the plants.
This shows that some businesses are not socially responsible and breaching the Acts provided to protect the children from exploitation, and therefore should follow the steps to correct their actions. This could be what Karl Marx proposed in The Communist Manifesto:
His view was simple in that all companies should abolish child labour and children should be entitled to have free education and by following and providing this, it would help offset the business's image as child employers to an image of socially and ethically responsible.
Additionally the company should take care when sub-contracting to make sure that no child labour is associated with them and not just within its own business.
Even though large companies are against breaching human rights they still need to look carefully at who they are contracting.
An ethical policy that should be pursued by companies is ethics of rights, which states that every human being has basic rights and freedoms that they are entitled to from birth and should be respected by others in every way.
By exploiting human rights, the corporate image perceived by potential customers would be lacking of corporate social responsibilities. This can have an adverse effect in the number of sales. Moreover, in the short term by exploiting human rights and employing children could lower costs, but the longer term consequence of this approach could lowers sales figures. This could be that customers disregard any product that hasn't been fairly made or is unethical. Therefore, by employing children, it does not give a large margin of advantages.
This matter of exploitation could also attract protestors or agencies that are all about protecting children, for example UNICEF. They can create a bad image for the business. This can attract the media and possibly authorities leading to fines and prosecution of breaching Acts. For example, the Children and Young Persons Act 1933.
On another point, employing children is cheap but the efficiency and quality of the work is sometimes not up to the minimum standard depending on the work so technically the company loses out by quality hence sales figures are affected.
This depends on the jobs but in this case I refer to the job being hard manual work.
There are many disadvantages for a child starting work at an early age
Even though the children are being fed it does not mean that they are living a healthy life.
It is argued that every child should have a childhood where they play and to be educated to better their future.
Businesses should help their child employees found within the business to clear their name and their image that are perceived to be by the public. This should include free education and any other actions to correct this exploitation this will in the long run help with the corporate image and sales and potential employees in the future.
There seems to be ample evidence to support the school of thought that child employment is acceptable, because companies are keeping children off the streets, prostitution etc. Some businesses try to be labelled as socially responsible instead of child labourers as they strive to give good benefits such as the right health and safety measures, schooling, food and shelter and many others. However 2 questions that I find myself to ask:
Does giving benefits make them socially respectable for still employing young children? Just because they are giving them benefits does that mean that it counteracts that children at a young age are being worked? Is this still ethically right that they have to work for education? (a basic right for any child). Does this remove the idea that they are child labours just because they give the children benefits?
Another argument is that the businesses may claim they are giving all these benefits, but how do we know as part of the public that the businesses are carrying out these promises as we do not have an insight within the business?
Overall, if companies argue that they are helping the children but are infringing on human rights in order to stay in the market with other competitors, it shows clearly that their aim is to compete with other companies and to gain maximum profit which shows how egoism theory of self interest (in this case profit) and Milton Friedman's theory of businesses work for profit only. This relates to the money driven mind and a lack of respect for human rights whatever the age. Such companies and should follow Karl Marx' proposal and respect human rights. The loss in profits from abandoning child labour will be offset by an image of social responsibility which has a positive impact on sales.
By giving benefits I don't believe that this makes the business socially acceptable, because children shouldn't have to work for basic entitlements. This is where the government should be involved and help to provide with these entitlements.
In conclusion of the essay I have found that child labour effects business' image mainly and which way it is perceived by the public in their own views of what is justifiable and what is not, is what affects sales which hence affects profits.
Majority of the public think that child labour was abolished in 1989 but it is still continued to be found in the 21st century today in large multinational companies mainly and needs to be intervened by more enforcements by the government.
Source: ChinaStones - http://china-stones.info/free-essays/accounting/child-labour.php