Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Child Labor, Soccer Balls, and Pakistan

The German magazine Der Spiegel has an interesting story on the effects of banning of child labor in the city of Sialkot, Pakistan--where many of the world's soccer balls are stitched together by hand. This passage highlights the complexities of the globalization of labor:
Parents now send their children to the brickworks and into metalworking companies where no one is worried about corporate image. The families need the money to survive. The local sports companies are aware of what's happened but they want to fulfil the wishes of their Western customers. After all, the people who spend a lot of money on footballs want to do so with a clear conscience. The customer in a sports retail outlet doesn't realize that young girls are now hauling bricks right next door to Danayal, the stitching factory.
"Ten or 12-year-olds were well off here," says one manager who asked not to be named. "They learned a trade here that secured them an income for life. Now we're having trouble finding new stitchers."
So banning child labor from the soccer ball trade gives us a clean conscience but fails to eliminate the problem? Do we give up trying to change things? Is there no alternative? These are the sorts of questions that a story like this raises. My argument (in chapter 5 of the book) is that the problems go even deeper -- to the idea that we divide work up globally and split up labor into pieces -- and that the solutions must be more than the simple idea of banning products produced under harsh conditions.