What do you do when you are confronted with the issue of Child labor ?

Someone wrote to me the other day telling me they were looking for a vendor in India because they had customer who did not want product made in China, because of the association of China with child labor. I can understand this because the customer is a Global Brand and if there were any association between the customer and child labor that would be very bad PR for the customer. I am not sure things are much better in India but I don’t know because I do not do a lot of business there.

I have seen a lot of child labor in China over the years. I think things are much improved there now under the commitment of the Chinese Govt, especially in the big cities, but if you go deep into rural areas you will inevitably see child labor in the factories or at the cottage industry level. In many cases it may just be a few kids running around the factory floor helping out their worker-parents ( more play than hard labor). In other cases it may be small children officially engaged in production. The best thing you can do in this situation is to mention it to your vendor but try not to sound too indignant. After all the US and other developed countries have their own history of child labor. The Chinese are well aware of this and if they don’t point it out to you can be sure they are thinking about it. . You can of course choose not to do business with a factory where you see child labor but depending on your product and the region where you are having it made you might have a hard time finding any factory that was in compliance with Chinese and International child labor standards. .

How do I handle child labor when I see it ? I will mention it to the factory boss and tell them it makes me uncomfortable.. Fortunately in China these days you can have these frank discussions with your vendors on issues like pollution, corruption, child labor etc. The reality however is that unless your orders are very big and you have a presence at the factory, the problem is not going to disappear. It will just disappear when you are there. If I am in China on behalf of a US or Canadian company I am working for I will mention what I see in my in my reports and advise the companies I was working for to consider child labor a very negative mark on the vendor. If we are in the process of vendor selection then the presence of child labor during an audit would be a good reason not to choose a vendor.

In the end though if you want to do business in China you just might have to put up with unsavory practices like child labor, for it is one of the harsh realities of doing business in the developing world. And remember there are two Chinas, the developed China i.e. urban China and the underdeveloped China i.e. rural China which is 60% of the country.

But make no mistake about it things are getting better. As the Government urbanizes more land problems like child labor will eventually go away.

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