OSSM‎ > ‎In the News‎ > ‎Catholic Social Teaching‎ > ‎

Child labor is still a reality in many countries

posted Jan 27, 2016, 8:34 PM by Vidal Martinez

The earth is brown, sometimes

Greyish-brown, brown, black, ochre, mud… No, the earth is not always blue like an orange.

We see the child or the adolescent – it is hard to tell his age – as he moves forward carrying his burden. His gaze, at once concentrated and empty, is infinitely sad. 

Where is the light in this region of the Democratic Republic of Congo, famous for the extraction of cobalt, a mineral indispensable for the production of electronic objects, now the faithful companions of our daily lives?

According to a report by Amnesty International, 150,000 child “diggers” work in the cobalt mines, exposed to danger and illness, deprived of schooling, etc.

Child labor is still a reality in many countries and in many sectors of the economy. It is difficult to eradicate, partly due to lack of determination on the part of the authorities, and partly because the survival of whole families and the children themselves often depends on it.

Some countries like Bolivia have decided to supervise it so that the children can go to school part time. Others, like the DRC, passed laws prohibiting child labor but are incapable of enforcing them. When poverty is combined with poor governance and repeated violence, the exploitation of these cheap workers thrives.

To such an extent that the wealth of a country – the DRC is the world’s leading producer of cobalt – never reaches the Congolese themselves but goes directly to others: in this case, a Chinese company.

This is reminiscent of a recent report on the France 2 television program “Grand Format.” It followed the absurd circuit of blue jean production: at each step of the manufacturing process, the pants travel thousands of miles. In particular, it showed a factory, once again in China, where fabrics are soaked in an indigo bath to dye them the right color, which will in any event have to be bleached afterwards! No environmental precautions are taken: the workers inhale the vapors from the vats without taking any precautions and the surrounding waterways have taken on a blue shade due, not to nature, but entirely to pollution.

“Everything is connected,” Pope Francis has warned in his encyclical. The exploitation of these children with their weary eyes; the incompetence of the DRC government; the cynicism of the Chinese mining company; the indifference of the buyers – electronic and automotive industries – seeking to negotiate the cheapest price for the precious component.

But also, at the end of the chain, we the consumers, with our enthusiasm for cell phones and computers and our fondness for jeans. The system can be improved, however. Campaigns to mobilize consumers at this end are putting pressure on industries here to require better working conditions over there. Even if it means paying a fair price. The gaze of the digger child demands it.