Child labor and sweatshops by Mary E. Williams

By Mary E. Williams

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Child labor flourishes under many conditions—cultural traditions; prejudice and discrimination based on gender, ethnic, religious or racial issues; unavailability of educational and other alternatives for working children; and no or weak enforcement of compulsory education and child labor laws. Globalization is strengthening child labor through providing ready access to areas of cheap labor that are rife with the above described conditions. Child labor increasingly offers an attractive incentive to keep labor costs down in a highly competitive global market.

We are poor and not well educated, so they simply despise us. ’ Moyna’s job had supported her and her grandmother but now they must both depend on relatives. Other children have had no alternative but to seek new kinds of work. When UNICEF and the ILO made a series of follow-up visits they found that the children displaced from the garment factories were working at stone-crushing and street hustling—more hazardous and exploitative activities than their factory jobs. ‘It is easier for the boys to get jobs again,’ Moyna complains, pointing to ex-garment boys who have jobs in welding and bicycle factories.

They made apparel, toys, shoes and, at least in South Korea’s case, wigs and false teeth, mostly for export. Within a generation, their national incomes climbed from about 10 percent to 40 percent of American incomes. Singapore welcomed foreign plant owners while South Korea shunned them, building industrial conglomerates of its own. But the first stage of development had one constant. “It’s always sweatshops,” Mr. Krugman said These same nations now export cars and computers, and the economists have revised their views of sweatshops.

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