Why We Don’t Feel Guilty About Child Slave Labor: And Why We Should

How many things have you purchased that are made in China or one of several other countries that might employ children? Too many to count? It’s almost impossible to not buy things made under questionable child-labor practices. Still, not only do we buy these things, we don’t even feel guilty about it. Why?

Certainly, we’ve been told child labor has become less common, but we’d be foolish to believe that it no longer exists. Check out this 2014 PDF Report on Child Labor. Names and brands like: Nike, Walmart, Victoria’s Secret, Disney, and Sears, among many others have been reported as using shocking sweatshop practices.  

Still, we shop at the stores and buy the products that are made by children being forced to work in substandard conditions. Why? Have we no conscience? Have we no empathy? Have we been desensitized? Or perhaps we just have no choice. My guess is that it’s a little of each of these things. But there’s something more:

It’s All About Proximity

What if someone put your kid to work in a substandard factory? You’d do everything in your power to stop the unfair practice, right? What if it was your nephew, niece or grandchild? You’d likely get involved in trying to stop the practice. What if it was your best friend’s kid or your neighbor’s kid? You’d likely do what you could to help, right? Why? Because these kids are close in proximity.

I like to believe that, like me, you believe that all human life has equal value. After all, as soon as you say another’s life has less value than your own, your life will surely be considered less valuable by someone else. So if we believe that all life is of equal value and we would fight to keep our own children from becoming child laborers working in sweatshops, why do we allow it at all? Why do we buy products made by slave labor and rarely feel a stitch of guilt? It’s a simple matter of proximity.

If we don’t know the children in the sweatshops, we are less likely to have guilt. If they are complete strangers to us, why would we care? But like us, they are human beings. Would we want to be forced to work in such poor conditions for such little pay? 

What If A Factory Using Child Labor Was Next Door?

How would you feel if you saw kids from your neighborhood going to and from work instead of school? How would you feel if you saw kids being abused for not working fast enough? Would you still buy the product being made?

I’m currently writing on an Apple MacBook Air. I wore Nike athletic shoes today. Apple and Nike have both used sweatshop labor at some point. Should I feel guilty about that? Of course I should. Why?

If we don’t feel some responsibility for the abuse of children who have equal value to our own children, things will only get worse.

We Should Feel Guilty; We Should Promote Change

As consumers, we have the power to create change. Hard as it may be, we can choose to only buy products from companies that do not use unfair labor practices.

I encourage you to start researching the products you buy. Start refusing to purchase products that are made using unfair practices. Buy less. Buy local. I’m as guilty as you are. I promise that I’ll also begin to make more conscientious decisions in regard to the products I buy.

Yes, we should feel guilty. Why? Because if we don’t, our own children may be the next generation of slaves. 

Their children are our children. Our children are their children. When their children suffer, so will ours. We are all human beings. Learn more about protecting the world’s children at unicef. Get involved. Help stop child labor.

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James Ewen
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