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Child Labor: Myths and Facts

Thanks to decades of awareness and activism campaigns, child labor is on a significant decline. There are an estimated 94 million fewer child laborers in the world today than there were in the year 2000—a 38% drop! And that’s a lot to celebrate!

But if you’re doing the math, you may realize that we still have a long way to go. 

Approximately 152 million children around the world are still child laborers today, and that means we still have work to do. So let’s look at the facts and see what we can all do to help fight against child labor.

Child labor defined

The International Labour Organization (ILO) defines child labor as “work that is mentally, physically, socially or morally dangerous and harmful to children; and interferes with their schooling.”

This means that child labor includes human trafficking; the ILO estimates that 1 in 4 human trafficking victims are children. But child labor is also broader than human trafficking, and includes work that—while perhaps not forced—is harmful, dangerous, or otherwise unsuitable for children. 


 Myths about child labor

To effectively advocate for child laborers, we need to clear up a few misunderstandings and myths about child labor.

Myth: Developing countries just need more laws about child labor.

Fact: Most countries have laws prohibiting child labor, these laws are just worked around or not enforced. In many cases, bosses will simply have children lie about their age or otherwise avoid any sort of inspections and audits. 

This means that if child labor is to continue to decrease, the companies that we buy from must begin to be more thorough in researching their supply chains, conducting third-party audits, and transparently sharing their sourcing with customers.

Myth: Children in the developing world need to make this money for their families. It is better than nothing.

Fact: Even if this is partially true in some cases, we cannot accept it as a good enough reason to turn a blind eye to child labor. Children should not have to risk their health or forgo their education to sustain their families’ lives. 

73 million child laborers are involved in hazardous labor. If a child’s job puts their life at risk, that job is not “better than nothing.” 

Child labor also hurts children’s education. Most child laborers end up with a primary-school level education at best, and children who leave school to work before the age of fifteen are less likely to ever find jobs as an adult. 

The solution is not to pull out of countries who are known for child labor; this would hurt developing countries. The solution is to encourage brands to examine their supply chains, crack down on child labor, and work with farms, factories, etc. who will provide a fair wage for those same jobs to adults who are capable of performing them. In this way, whole communities and families are built up, so that children do not need to work for their families.  

What you can do to fight child labor

Make your voice heard. Take the time to ask the brands you buy from (or bought from) about their sourcing. 

The cocoa industry is one of the most notorious for using child labor, but child labor is also prevalent in all kinds of other agricultural industries, as well as cosmetics and the fashion industry. 

Companies listen to their consumers’ dollars; they have and will continue to make changes when we make our priorities known.

Shop ethically. Naturally, we at DoneGood believe that shopping ethically helps, or we wouldn’t exist. Shopping ethically not only takes dollars out of the pockets of unethically-run businesses, but it also supports businesses, people, and organizations who are actively working to support families and communities in the developing world. 

Obviously, you already know that DoneGood can help you as you seek to shop ethically. Be sure to also check out the Department of Labor’s “2018 List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor.” This handy spreadsheet can help you know what countries to avoid buying from, especially as you grocery shop.


 The DOL's "List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor" may help make ethical shopping even easier.

Where Does DoneGood fit in?

We love partnering with brands that use their products to help children and families thrive. For more information, check out this post for the 2019 World Day Against Child Labor, where I highlight brands like Marketplace: Handwork of India, Sudara, and Krochet Kids that are actively working to support and encourage children’s education and overall wellbeing.  



Erin King
DoneGood Contributor

Writer, editor, and all-around language enthusiast who 
uses her love of words to help others.



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