Child Labor

Source: Megha Bahree, Forbes, Vol. 181 no. 4, February 25, 2008

That garden stone, handmade carpet or embroidered T-shirt you just bought was probably made by child labor.

Every time you buy an imported handmade carpet, an embroidered pair of jeans, a beaded purse, a decorated box or a soccer ball there’s a good chance you’re acquiring something fashioned by a child. Such goods are available in places like GapKids, Macy’s, ABC Carpet & Home, Ikea, Lowe’s, and Home Depot. These retailers say they are aware of child-labor problems, have strict policies against selling products made by underage kids and abide by the laws of the countries from which they import. But there are many links in a supply chain, and even a well-intentioned importer can’t police them all.

“There are many, many household items that are produced with forced labor and not just child labor,” says Bama Athreya, executive director of the International Labor Rights Forum in Washington, D.C. It’s a fact of a global economy, and will continue to be, as long as Americans (and Europeans) demand cheap goods–and incomes in emerging economies remain low. If a child is enslaved, it’s because his parents are desperately poor.

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