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A New Survey on Child Labor Reveals Americans’ Views

Child Labor in India
A child laborer in India.

In a new survey of Americans’ opinions on child labor, 55 percent of respondents say they would spend more for clothing that was produced without the use of child labor, and they would pay 34 percent more on average.

Although this is good news, the same survey, which was conducted by Ipsos Public Affairs on behalf of ChildFund International in late June, shows that Americans vastly underestimate the number of children worldwide who are engaged in often exploitative and dangerous work.

Of the 1,022 people surveyed, only 1 percent accurately estimated the correct number of child laborers: 150 million. The average American guesses that only 6.5 million children aged 5 to 14 are child laborers, and 73 percent of survey respondents say there are fewer than 1 million.

Despite this unfamiliarity with the facts, most survey respondents say they are willing to commit to changes in their shopping habits when confronted with knowledge of child labor. More than three-fourths say they are not likely to continue purchasing clothes from brands that are found to be using child laborers, even if they have often bought their clothing from these labels in the past. (For more statistics from the survey, see the infobox at right.)

“This spring’s collapse of a garment factory in Bangladesh has focused the world’s attention on the often hazardous working conditions that many workers in developing countries confront every day, and while it appears that the more than 1,000 victims of that tragedy were adults, the fact is these factories regularly employ children as young as 10 years old,” says Anne Lynam Goddard, president and CEO of ChildFund International.

“These survey findings provide telling insight into Americans’ attitudes about child labor and should help companies understand that they need not make economic choices over moral ones,” Goddard adds. “I believe that American consumers will become increasingly educated about the source of the products they purchase and begin making more knowledgeable and ethically driven buying decisions.”

Aside from physical risks, children and teens who spend hours working often cannot attend school or are too tired to fully participate. Such interruptions to education greatly perpetuate generational poverty.

Serving children and families in 30 countries, ChildFund supports many projects that discourage child labor through community dialogue — among children, parents, local governments and businesses — and training adults and teens in safer and more stable ways to earn money. We also encourage entrepreneurial efforts through microloans and other support.

An important piece of the puzzle is for Americans to recognize the insidious nature of child labor and just how widespread the problem is in the developing world. Awareness of industries that use child laborers is crucial. Economic pressure on these industries to change their practices is a powerful response.

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