As I read the results of the Do Well Do Good opinion survey (released December 15, 2010), I could feel my emotions build. This social responsibility survey of 1,017 Americans found, among other things, that 83% of those surveyed said they would seriously consider leaving their job if their company was found to engage child labour. I could instantly feel the shame of the respondents at the thought of this possibility.
During the early to mid-nineties child labour felt like it was pretty much a part of my DNA. At the time, it seemed to be a top-of-mind social conversation. As if change spins on a dime, there was a naively popular expectation that child labour could be brought to a full stop, just like that. The work, it was argued, could be given to adults, and kids could finally get a chance to go to school. Both expectations were part of the same equation. Working in international development at the time, I was thrilled by the moral outrage and by the attention the issue was receiving. I also was alarmed by the naiveté about international development and was concerned about the consequences for working children because of the complexity of the child labour problem. There were no (and still aren't) quick fixes to this problem. Appropriate responses appear on multiple levels. This change would require time.
What was I thinking? I thought this was an excellent opportunity to engage the public with my own peculiar style of pedantry to explain the complexity of development; I wanted the public to understand the issue and to make informed choices. I wanted to make for a richer experience so that more people would understand the real challenges faced by families and their children in a developing country context. Now I must confess to my own naiveté!
The closing statement of a blog entry posted by Seth Godin earlier this week read, "You can't sell complicated to someone who came to you to buy simple." What a brilliant observation! I sure could have benefitted from this advice several years ago.
What has been your own experience with child labour? Does it continue to have relevance in whatever it is that you do? How do you measure the success of your involvement?