Dear President-elect Trump,
As you are reading this letter, young, innocent children that live below the poverty line are mining in caves for the precious stones that Macy’s gets hold of for their jewelry line, and sewing the sweatshirts that are shipped to Disneyland’s sweatshops.
Child labor is a major issue occurring all over the world, including America. Despite the laws Congress enforced so many decades ago, one being the FLSA (Fair Labor Standards Act) passed in 1938, many companies and industries who resort to cheap child labor overlook these laws and have children working for them in other countries, specifically third world countries, where the respective governments don’t enforce child labor policies. Examples of companies or industries in America that use child labor are Macy’s, Disney, Forever 21, America’s tobacco companies, and so many more.
A company that heavily depends on child labor is Disney. It is very disappointing to know that the “happiest place on Earth” uses children to sew their sweatshirts. According to an article written by Frederick Kopp, who is a history professor at DePaul university in Chicago, Illinois, an inhumane Disney sweatshop exists in Haiti, a small Caribbean island, in which child labor is prevalent. In this hazardous and insanitary plant, people of ages 10 to 30 work, most of whom are women and children. Each worker gets only 28 cents per hour, which is actually the highest wage out of the three plants in Haiti. After taxes, the average Haitian sweatshop worker gets $15-$20 per month. That’s not enough family to sustain one child, let alone a whole family. The workers may not be physically enslaved but many are financially tied. They have no savings account, and most work paycheck to paycheck. Workers get heavily fined for minor mistakes, such as forgetting to turn the lights off or showing up late to work. These fines range from $35 - $60, which costs up to 2 months of pay. There are times when employers constantly fine women or children, so that they cannot quit before paying. In a way, this could also be seen as slavery, since the worker cannot effectively quit.
However, this particular issue is not completely ignored, as Shirley Slesinger Lasswell, husband of the late Stephen Slesinger who had claimed the right to Winnie the Pooh in the 1930’s, took a stand in this ghastly controversy, and begged Disney to improve their employee's working conditions. Many others had stood up with her.
At one point, the Congress had decided to take a stand. Unfortunately, their plan had backfired. Disney contractor H.H. Cutler attempted to move the plant to China, instead of bettering the conditions in Haiti itself. In China, workers would be allowed even lower wages, and worse working conditions. To prevent this from happening, the U.S. government wrote a personal letter to Disney’s CEO Michael Eisner, convincing him to keep the plant in Haiti. Eisner never responded, and Cutler moved the plant to China.
It is not just the companies that heavily depend on child labor.
America’s tobacco industry uses child labor as well. Elena, a 16 year old living in North Carolina, unwillingly spends her summers working in the tobacco fields. When she was interviewed by the Human Rights Watch, she claimed to have symptoms that could relate to a wide range of medical illnesses. She says, “I don’t feel any different in the fields than when I was 12. I [still] get headaches and … my stomach hurts. And like I feel nauseous…. I just feel like my stomach is like rumbling around. I feel like I’m gonna throw up.” All these symptoms stated in the quote lead to acute nicotine poisoning, which is an illness due to your skin having direct contact with a tobacco plant. Many children have reported having nausea, vomiting, lightheadedness, headaches, and dizziness after coming home at the end of every summer. This can severely affect the child’s health, education, and potentially their whole life.
Each summer, children like Elena work under the hot sun in tobacco fields, where they are exposed to nicotine, and other toxic substances. Tobacco companies officially banned children from under 16 to work, but that still leaves many unprotected and endangered teens. This new policy differentiates with international standards and unsupported by scientific evidence on adolescent growth and development. Many children were reported to have been working in areas that were being sprayed with pesticides, or had recently been. Sadly, tobacco companies still have the right to hire children for this tedious and hazardous job, despite their awareness of the extreme medical illnesses that occur to children. The US government are fully aware of the children s’ health risks, yet has failed to end the child labor.
Of course, there is a downside on banning child labor. The main reason companies use child labor is to reduce cost of production. Paying every child a reasonable amount of money would make their company go bankrupt, since they are using all their money to pay their extremely poor employees. The children who get little pay for their hard work can use the money to pay their tuition fees, which can really help for their education. I understand that companies obviously do not want to torture children for fun ; they just need the money. But fining children for no reason and making children risk their own health for the jobs companies are responsible for is unfair, and unacceptable.
It is clear to me that the Congress has put effort into solving this issue, but they have not put enough to stop child labor. So as president of the United States, I would like you and the Congress to do something about this unknown problem and put it to a end.
Anila Chundi - LSI, Quimby Oak Middle School student