The International Labor Organization says that approximately 250 million children between the ages of five and fourteen work in developing countries, at least 120 million on a full time basis. Child labor currently helps support the economies of many developing nations. According to reports by such groups as Human Rights Watch, some cases of child labor may also be supporting American corporations. But who is supporting the children?
All over the world, poverty forces kids as young as four-years-old into hard labor. Child laborers often work long hours, are given dangerous tasks, and are paid extremely low wages. Furthermore, labor obligations frequently prevent young workers from receiving an education. These illegal working conditions deprive kids of their childhood and ultimately endanger their lives.
In West Africa, the chocolate industry benefits from the exploitation of child workers in cocoa fields. In India, some kids are forced to toil in cotton fields while others work their fingers to the bone weaving silk. In El Salvador, sugarcane plantations count on the dangerous labor of children as young as eight years old.
The case of El Salvador has recently been investigated by Human Rights Watch. The 139-page report found that the 30,000 Salvadorian children who work in the sugarcane fields are constantly subject to severe injuries. The job of cutting sugarcane, considered the most dangerous of all agricultural work, leaves kids with deep cuts and gashes from the machetes and knives they are required to use. Further health risks are attributed to smoke inhalation and burns, because the sugarcane is often burned before it is cut.
According to Human Rights Watch, the Salvadoran sugar industry is not alone in profiting from child labor. In its report on El Salvador's sugarcane cultivation, HRW states that The Coca-Cola Company is one of the many businesses that buy sugar from El Salvador and is thus supporting the use of illicit child labor. The report also states that the company's local bottler buys sugar refined at Central Izalco, the biggest sugar mill in El Salvador. HRW found that at least four plantations that supply sugar to Central Izalco use child labor.
The Coca-Cola Company denies connection with child labor, as it does not purchase sugar directly from the law-breaking plantations. The company told HRW that it holds true to its guiding principles, which assert that Coca-Cola's direct suppliers "will not use child labor as defined by local law."
Regardless of Coca-Cola's involvement or lack thereof, the issue of child labor presents an imminent threat to the lives of innocent children in developing nations around the world. To learn more about child labor check out Fields of Hope or to learn more about other human rights violations, check out www.hrw.org. Then, discover what you can do to help.