Monday, 23 June 2008

The One That Sees Two Problems and Two Solutions. . .

There was a 'news' story on the BBC last night which was talking about subcontractors to high street 'fashion' store Primark employing child labour to finish off articles of clothing off site from their Indian factories.

OK, 1st problem, and the easiest:-

Dear BBC, it is your job to report the news, not to make it. Please don't insult us by dressing up a trailer for Panorama as a news item. A news story is influenced by the events surrounding it, this story could have been broken at any time, it is a magazine feature not news. Please stop it.

Right that's the first problem identified and solved.

Secondly, I have a real problem with child labour, I want to live in a world where children have the opportunity to go to school and just be kids. However we do not live in such a utopia. I can't help wondering that if by cancelling these suppliers' contracts that they have just placed more people in worse poverty. A more pragmatic and real-politik view is needed with this situation.

Firstly you have to ask the question, 'why are these kids working like this?' I'm betting it is because there is an economic and family financial imperative that the wages, no matter how meagre, earned by these kids are coming in. I'm also betting that as the kids specifically included in the Panorama report are Tamil/Sri Lankan refugees living in a camp, there is no school for them to go to. What happens to these families now the income generated by the children has gone? There is no welfare state to look after them. My concern is that we are judging these practices from the viewpoint of a developed Western economy with social security. A luxury these people do not have. I am not supposing that these families want their kids to work, I don't believe any responsible parent wants this for their kids, but if it is the difference between the kids eating and not eating, then what choice do they have?

Would it not be better to accept that child labour, whilst being highly undesirable is a fact, and that by removing the job the kids are doing you may be removing the labour, but not the cause behind it?

Here's a solution I've been mulling over for a few hours. I decide to open 'Snowolf's Gentlemen's Clothing Emporium - competitively priced clothing with a conscience'. Just as with Primark, I want to keep prices low, however I accept that some items of clothing will be made by child labour. Would it be acceptable for me as the proprietor of this outlet to promote the fact that:

a: We use child labour.
b: The cost of the clothing is displayed on the item's price tag.
c: Additional to this is a displayed amount of x% that goes toward the funding of schools for the kids that make the clothes, and enables them on a 2 day, 3 day split either way in a five day week to be paid to go to school as if they were producing the clothes.
d: Perhaps a surplus from the x% means that the company can sponsor the brightest kids working for them to attend university.

I don't know, I don't have the answers, merely suggestions and would be interested to hear what you think.

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