Child labor in India: Can organizations make a difference?

India has one of the fastest growing economies in the world; however it still suffers with poverty, illiteracy, highest child birth death rate, malnutrition, among others. When studying the country something that caught my attention was the amount of child labor occurring in the country. Many companies have suppliers in India and I began researching if they have been doing something to help this growing problem. To my surprise, a lot of suppliers alleged that providing jobs to children was part of the Indian culture. However, do you think that an 8 year old heading to work considers that part of their culture? Furthermore, why are these children working at such a young age? Something that I found out was that children inherit their parent’s debt, so they need to work in order to pay the debt. Differently than the USA, the interest rates in India go as high at 30%, which keeps the children working for years even if they have to pay a small amount like $30. I was interested in how organizations could make a difference in countries such as India.

I think that companies can spend their budget on societal needs. For instance, IKEA made a greater impact on more than 200 communities by getting involved with UNICEF sending young children to schools[link]. A project that started almost 8 years ago continues growing and now they are have planning to expand the project to 500 communities, providing more than 1 million children with education. Nike as another example, who faced difficult and challenging public relations issues for their labor practices, including child labor, in India realized that something had to be done. They developed a Code of Conduct to improve the working conditions, which included safety standards, environmental regulations, and workers insurance.

Education is extremely important for the development of a country.  Building schools will enhance learning in the country and also provide jobs to large amounts of citizens. This would create such a great impact in the community for several reasons. Among these reasons, parents will not be concerned with saving money to send their kids to school, and it will make their kids attend school to achieve their longtime goals. The future generation will be more prepared to perform the plantation jobs and to help their country further develop with the knowledge they have acquired in their education.

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10 Responses

  1. Great post Tania! I recommend the movie Slumdog Millionaire to all of you out there who have not seen it. It is a great depiction of Indian life and it specifically highlights a serious child labor issue. Like the move shows, there are people in Indian who force young children living in the slums to beg for money on the streets. This money is given back to the “leader” of the organization, and child receives minimal, if any profit.

    When I was in India last spring, we were encouraged not to give money to the children beggars. This money would be fueling the child labor industry since most of these children are likely working for a corrupt organization. It broke my heart to deny these children money, but if you watch Slumdog Millionaire you will understand how terrible and serious this industry is.

    • Thanks Molly! I did watch that movie is great, I hope companies keep trying to stop this problem.

  2. I really like this post and some of the points is brings up. I think it’s great that child labor in India is coming under fire, but this seems like a mere band aid for a much bigger problem. Once the laws get strict enough in India, companies taking advantage of child labor will simply move to a new country where the laws are less strict. Unfortunately, if countries wait to pass child labor laws until it is a problem in their country, it will be a long, long time before child labor disappears from our world.

  3. I think this post brings up some important issues, but is it really the responsibility of the company to invest in social welfare. What benefits does this give them? In the case of public corporations, they are in effect spending money that rightfully belongs to the shareholders. By providing education, health care, or other social services, these companies also risk elevating the population to a level where they can command higher salaries. This will be directly passed on as price increases to the consumer. Our Nike sneakers and North Face jackets will cost twice as much! This seems like a doubly whammy to consumers in western nations such as the US. Our dividends are being skimmed at the risk of labor cost increases. The one argument that could be made for these programs, especially in India, is that we will end up with an over-educated workforce willing to perform higher level tasks for less money than their western counterparts. One only has to look at the growth in India’s business services sector to see this partially in effect already. Maybe cheaper IT mgmt, accounting services, call centers, and software programming is worth the trade off?

    • Corporate social responsibility can be very beneficial to companies if they approach it strategically. I think that a company’s activities and society are interdependent with each other; they both need to be healthy in order to produce a successful outcome. Society as a whole has many unresolved issues that not a sole company will be able to fix them all. However, I feel that companies could have the ability to implement great infrastructure in international countries since they are using their cheap hand labor and going against ethical standards. Being socially responsible can allow employees to think outside the box and perhaps come up with new ideas from doing business in underdeveloped countries. A company should NOT just give money to its shareholders, else why do they have mission statements? I think people could be less greedy and help the world and the ethical problems that arise every day.

  4. I think companies and organizations do have a duty to help out the social welfare of the community their operate in. Child labor may be a part of the Indian culture but if it is to remain a part of Indian culture, it needs to be made less trying for the children. Companies should give money and programs to the area they operate in.
    I understand that much of this cost will be transferred to the consumer…but if consumers really want these products, they need to understand that a higher cost will have to come with buying them in order to further the social well-being of all. If that means me paying $10 more for my sneakers, so be it.

  5. When it comes to corporate social responsibility I like to think of it from a Rawlsian perspective. John Rawls was a philosopher who came up with the “veil of ignorance” concept. The “veil of ignorance” encourages people to analyze a situation naive to the role that they play in the society. So imagine that you could be the CEO of a company operating in India, a shareholder of the company, a starving Indian child, a polluted river in the area or an Indian school teacher working in a local poverty-stricken neighborhood. You don’t know which role you are going to be placed in as an individual…you are equally likely to be placed in either of the five. Knowing this, would you advocate for or against CSR????

  6. In certain underdeveloped countries companies have the opportunity to use in social welfare a certain percentage of the taxes they have to pay to the local government. This could be a solution for those who think companies should just respond to their stakeholders. However, I think it’s important to bear in mind that we all have a social responsibility with our countries and the global community we belong to. If we keep thinking that the world problems have nothing to do with us, soon we will have no world!

  7. I completely agree that companies have an obligation to the society that they belong in. It is great that Nike and other companies are improving working conditions and safety standards. Just because it is part of the Indian culture does not mean that it is not a problem that should be addressed. Changing these organizations is crucial to the economies that they belong to when it comes to the issues mentioned such as illiteracy and a high child death rate. It is understandable that the costs for more qualified labor will drive up prices somewhat but in general, society will benefit more. Benefitting shareholders as well as being ethically responsible is something that all organizations should strive for.

  8. i dont think it is right for children to have to be part of child labor. I know when i was little i was taken from my mom and i had to live with people i didnt know, and they made me work 9 to 10 hours day and if i didnt do what i was told i was hit. THere was a couple times i have been in fosrter care. Since i was 5 i have moved 15 times and i am now 16. I wish i could help these kids out. If you want help me find a way bc no kids should go throw this ever!

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