Do You Really Know How Your Household Products Were Made?
Above: Young boys use their hands to search for raw materials like cobalt and copper in Kambove, Democratic Republic of Congo. Photographer: Doudou Kajangu
NOTE: This is a guest post from Cheryl Hotchkiss, Senior Manager of Advocacy and Public Engagement for World Vision.
It’s that wonderful time of year when many Canadians check the batteries in their flashlights and cameras before heading off on a weekend trip. As we look forward to these trips, a young boy in the Democratic Republic of Congo is heading off to his job at a mine.
Jean is that boy and he is exhausted. But he isn’t exhausted from playing or staying up late like many 8 year olds on summer holiday. Jean is exhausted from mining the cobalt that helps our batteries work.
Jean works, usually without a meal, from 6:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. each day. His job is to dig and carry heavy loads of rock to a rinsing pool where cobalt and copper can be washed and found. Jean’s mother works at the mine too.
Like 14 per cent of the population in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Jean and his mother work as artisanal miners, meaning they literally dig, wash and sort minerals by hand on unregulated sites. Their daily hazards include tunnel collapses, explosions and absorption of toxic materials like lead, uranium and mercury. At this tender age, Jean has already seen someone killed while mining.
Jean is not alone. A normal day is harsh for the 115 million children around the world in the worst forms of child labour. There’s often no playtime, no afternoon nap, no summer holidays.
Fortunately, we have the chance to be a part of ending the unjust conditions these children face.
An education in jeopardy
As hard as Jean’s mother and father work, they don’t earn enough to cover the family’s most basic needs. Jean’s meager income not only helps the family eat but also goes towards the education he has placed his hope in. But the impact of mining work follows Jean wherever he goes, including to school.
Jean has been forced to miss many classes because he either has to work or because he is suffering from skin rashes, body pains, and eye irritation from his exposure to toxic materials. The cost of schooling may also soon be too much for Jean’s family to afford. A World Vision team found that of the 53 children at the site Jean works at, 29 had already left school because the fees were beyond their means. (See the results of World Vision’s study).
And yet hope remains. When asked if it will be possible for him to leave mining work and pursue his dreams, Jean says: “if I find someone to support me, because my parents can’t.”
This is the complex reality Jean faces.
A wider scope
Millions of children do demanding work on large fishing boats, in garment factories and on cocoa farms to help their families get by. This is not the life for a child.
While a recent World Vision study found 89 per cent of Canadians would pay more for products that are free of child labour, consumers often do not have information on whether children were exploited to provide us with a copper pipe from the hardware store, a new shirt at the store or a chocolate treat.
If we are to help children become free from dirty, dangerous and degrading work and gain the education they deserve, we need to become more responsible consumers.
Digging for solutions
We all have a role to play in ensuring children aren’t exploited to produce the products we buy. This is true for businesses, governments, and the average consumer. Knowing more about how products are produced, we can ensure that buying batteries does not contribute to keeping Jean out of school.
When Canadian businesses are transparent about each step of how their products are made, consumers can, in turn, encourage companies to enforce codes of conduct, carry out audits to see if child labour is used and improve the livelihoods of people who help make the item. For a child like Jean, this means his parents will earn enough to meet the family’s basic needs. In turn, Jean will be able to leave mining work and focus on his schooling.
You can help create a better future for children in dirty, dangerous and degrading work. Sign the petition and ask the Canadian government to help eliminate the worst forms of child labour by encouraging and supporting transparency for each step of products journey to Canada.
*Jean’s name has been changed to protect his identity.
World Vision is a Christian relief, development and advocacy organization dedicated to working with children, families and communities to overcome poverty and injustice. World Vision’s Help Wanted: End Child Slavery campaign is focused on reducing the number of children who are pushed, forced or trafficked into 3D jobs dirty, dangerous and degrading.
All images courtesy of World Vision Canada photographed by Doudou Kajangu