Child labor is a serious issue, which affects the entire world. Human Rights Watch (2021) reports that over 70 million kids globally are exploited. The primary causes of child labor include poverty, lack of access to education, violations of existing laws, corruption, and many others (The University of Iowa Labor Center, n.d.). Ortiz-Ospina and Rosper (2016) showcase that children in Bangladesh work 32 hours a week on average, and those in El Salvador work 20 hours a week on average. With the crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, millions of children worldwide are forced into dangerous and illegal work to support their families (Perez-Pena, 2020).
UNICEF (2020) reports that the number of children in child labor will increase to 121 million in the next 5 years. Despite the continuous pledges of the world’s largest corporations such as Nestle and Mars to put an end to child exploitation, the majority of such companies use the labor of underage kids (Whoriskey & Siegel, 2019). Thus, from the children working in experiencing hazardous working conditions in Latin America and Africa to the wealthy Americans and Europeans enjoying imported products, the world is stuck in a loop involving children’s suffering.
Child labor is truly an ethical issue as it is arguably morally wrong to deprive kids of their childhood and potential. It is important to consider that child labor is physically, mentally, and socially harmful to a child (Ibrahim et al., 2018). In addition, it often interferes with their schooling, which results in inadequate physical and mental development (Brando, 2020). The worst forms of child labor often imply slavery, life-threatening working conditions, as well as forceful separation of kids from their families.
The morally right thing to do would be to eliminate child labor. I believe that it is unethical to exploit children and cause them suffering through child labor schemes for the benefit of manufacturers. Child labor is a source of underserved and easily avoidable physical and mental harm. In support of this reason, I would apply the Rule of Utilitarianism. According to this ethical theory, it is wrong to do something, which stands in opposition to the rule leading to the greatest good (Tardi & Estevez, 2020).
In this case study, the rule, which produces the most benefit for the greatest number of people is “do no harm.” Not exploiting children conforms to this rule, which makes child labor immoral. Children cannot adequately fight for their rights if their contracts are violated or working conditions become unbearable. In support of this reason, I would apply the Kantian Formula of Humanity. It poses that it is unethical to treat someone only as a means (Johnson, 2016). Manufacturers exploit children, causing them physical and mental harm because they consider them merely as cheap and wieldy labor, which is a source of financial gains.
The limitation of Rule Utilitarianism is that some might argue that more harm is done when children are denied employment opportunities when they desperately need them. After all, child labor is an issue primarily in poor countries where families have no other choice but to force their children to work in order to survive. The limitation of the Formula of Humanity is the fact that defining whether someone is treated as a means is subjective. One might assume that as long as the subject gets at least something from the interaction, they are not truly a means. This would justify child labor as long as children receive pay for their work.
Brando, N. (2020). What (if anything) is wrong with child labor? Justice Everywhere. Web.
Human Rights Watch. (2021). Child labor. HRW. Web.
Ibrahim, A., Abdalla, S. M., Jafer, M., Abdelgadir, J., & de Vries, N. (2019). Child labor and health: a systematic literature review of the impacts of child labor on child’s health in low- and middle-income countries. Journal of Public Health (Oxford, England), 41(1), 18–26. Web.
Johnson, R. (2016). Kant’s moral philosophy. Plato Stanford. Web.
Ortiz-Ospina, E., & Rosper, M. (2016). Child labor. Our World in Data. Web.
Perez-Pena, R. (2020). Futures in peril: The rise of child labor in the pandemic. The New York Times. Web.
Tardi, C. & Estevez, E. (2020). Utilitarianism. Investopedia. Web.
The University of Iowa Labor Center. (n.d.). Causes of child labor. Labor Center UIowa. Web.
UNICEF. (2020). Child labor. Web.
Whoriskey, P. & Siegel, R. (2019). Cocoa’s child laborers. The Washington Post. Web.