An interesting and disturbing article from The Observer:

Amitosh concentrates as he pulls the loops of thread through tiny plastic beads and sequins on the toddler’s blouse he is making. Dripping with sweat, his hair is thinly coated in dust. In Hindi his name means ‘happiness’. The hand-embroidered garment on which his tiny needle is working bears the distinctive logo of international fashion chain Gap. Amitosh is 10.

Horrible. And Gap – which has been caught by surprise by one of its subcontractors – has promised to destroy the blouses involved. No doubt there’s little alternative to that, but I feel uncomfortable about the way such stories tend to be reported and debated. Child labour is an appalling practice but it is not a contaminant like salmonella. You cannot fix the problem by destroying the tainted goods.
The aim here should not be to break the link between child labour and our consumption. It is to end child labour and replace it with something better – children well-cared for, well-fed and well educated. Does the one lead to another? Not automatically.
To The Observer’s credit this question – usually neglected – is asked if not entirely answered:

Gap’s own policy is that if it discovers children being used by contractors to make its clothes that contractor must remove the child from the workplace, provide it with access to schooling and a wage, and guarantee the opportunity of work on reaching a legal working age.

Tim Harford’s blog

This blog is no longer updated but it remains open as an archive.

Tim, also known as the Undercover Economist, writes about the economics of everyday life.