“There are over 200 million children making the things we buy.”
If you look around your desk, or your pantry, you will almost certainly see products that come to you because of child labor (which is very often slavery). You may already know this (I did), but think that it’s probably unavoidable given today’s global economy. The documentary Invisible Hands seeks to open our eyes to what that means and perhaps goad us into taking action against the practice.
The film goes around the world to show us some of the places where children work, including Indonesia, where they work in the production of palm oil (it’s in everything you eat); India, where children are used in many industries (mining, carpets, jewelry); China, where children work in sweatshop to make our clothes; the United States (yes, right here) where children as young as 12 can legally work on farms (if you smoke, the kids who harvest your tobacco absorb more nicotine working than you do inhaling); and Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire where they work so we can have chocolate.
The film sets before us all the facts we need to know that this is a major global problem. But more than that it puts faces and voices before us. We meet children who are doing these jobs for little or no pay. Some are even trafficked as slaves. All are losing any chance at either a pleasant childhood, and more importantly, any chance of a future that is not impoverished. When a child works, they are not in school, so have no hope of improving their lives.
Early in the film a point is made that the major corporations look the other way, in spite of policies that say they will not tolerate child labor. They have supply chains that have so many levels that they cannot (i.e., will not) audit or police their suppliers. As one speaker says, it is “willful ignorance”. I think that is probably the case with the public as a whole. We don’t want to think about the fact that nearly everything we have traces back to child labor.
The film also shows a bit of hope. In China, the country has started compulsory education, so child labor has dropped. The film shows Apple to be a model for corporate responsibility and transparency in its recent moves to audit suppliers and publish the wrongs they find. It also takes us to a rescue organization in India that not only gets children out of bondage (sometimes those doing the rescues face violence), but also providing a healing environment for those who have been misused by “employers”.
When an issue involves such a global reach as this, we may feel overwhelmed and powerless. But because we see people who are taking action, we may feel encouraged to act in whatever manner we can to chip away at the problem. It may start with consciousness of the problem. We may start looking at the labels of our clothes and tell people in the store we won’t buy things from countries that allow child labor. Or maybe we’ll start letting our voices be heard at larger corporations, or support laws that demand accountability.
For those wanting a better idea of what they can do, and how you are involved, you can go to the film’s website (http://www.invisiblehandsmovie.com/) and see some of the ways you can act. One option is to check your own slavery footprint. (I have 40 slaves working for me.) You can also see companies with relative better records. (But keep in mind a score of 40 out of 100 qualifies as the top quartile.) We can begin to find the tools that will allow us to make a difference not only in this as a problem, but in the lives that the problem represents.