I like to think that I bring a reasonably balanced perspective to my work; mindful of the implications of the choices I make. That is until I'm reminded of the time I went to the Library and came home with a horse. Yes, a real horse. Sorry Wally!
As I said, balanced, mindful; yet ever vigilant to protect myself from an impetuous affliction, ready to sabotage everyday rhythms and convert process into chaos, instantly.
In a previous post on child labour I gave readers a glimpse of my rationale for approaching social change as I do. By tackling change systemically I believe we can be more effective, able to sustain the change over the long term.
This was essentially the approach I adopted in the mid nineties when seeking, like so many others, to bring an end to the age-old problem of child labour. I argued against boycotts, believing boycotts could potentially cause more harm than good. But I soon discovered this was not an opinion backed by popular support. Some even misconstrued my approach to supporting the child labour status quo.
The public wanted none of it. The public's focus was on the manufacturing for export market in Asia which represented less than 5% of the child labour problem at the time. And as a campaign to end child labour mounted, I couldn't help but wonder whether the campaign was more about feeling good than it was about ending child labour. The public wanted simple. And as a result, carpets got labelled, garments got labelled and consumers accumulated social justice points. Few, however, explored what was behind the label.
What the public did not realize is that as a result of fear-induced threats of boycotts, the children got lost in the storm; they disappeared. They became invisible, just as popular opinion demanded. The adults did not get the jobs abandoned by the children and children did not end up in classrooms as expected. The displaced children more often than not found themselves eking out an existence in more precarious and riskier circumstances than they had been previously exposed, powerless to demand better. Consumers were smug about their social justice report card. Trudie Styler produced a documentary film highlighting the tragedy that befell the children of Bangladesh at the time.
Today, as I reflect upon that period, I cringe with anxiety, but I am equally proud of the change that did occur. It did not come as quickly as expected, but with the spotlight on exploitation in general, efforts were more collaborative and the scope of the problem underwent the appropriate level of rigour required for strategic responses to be developed. Socially, we learned many lessons.
Like most new interventions, labelling and monitoring struggled at first, but they quickly matured.
As a society, we are 15 to 20 years older with a deeper appreciation of the complexity of international development issues. Eventually, I believe we succeeded in convincing naysayers of the importance of an integrated, multi-sectoral strategy to help us arrive at a socially responsible and sustainable solution. But as with any sustainable change, it will be a long time yet before time and resources are no longer required in the struggle to end child labour.
If you had the power, the authority, how would you tackle child labour?
Not been particularly kind enough to yourself today? Why not take a break and enjoy this awesome, danceable piece from a great film particularly relevant to today's post! Be sure to watch out for other Bhangra-crazed dancers in your path!
photo credit: Trey Ratcliff July 2010 via flikr