10.31.2009

child labour in our own backyard, yet again

What century will it be when the fruits and vegetables sold and consumed in North America are not the bitter fruit of exploited labour?

Once again, the use of child labour in the fields has been exposed, this time children as young as five years old picking blueberries in Michigan. Wal-Mart and the Kroger supermarket chain have cut ties with the grower - after these human rights abuses were revealed, of course.

I've been reading, thinking and agitating about this issue my entire life. The stories appear as regularly as the seasons.

When Allan sent me this story yesterday, I wondered how so many reader comments could amass on such a non-controversial topic, something universally condemned, like slavery. Everyone opposes child labour, right? Obviously everyone doesn't oppose child labour, or it wouldn't exist. But I didn't think anyone would publicly support or justify it.

Then I clicked, and my head nearly exploded. Apparently many people believe "we" have no right to criticize "them," "them" being the brown people who have large families to support. The whole family working together is how they can make ends meet.

Here's an idea: living wages. Pay the parents a decent wage for their back-breaking labour, so they can support themselves and their children.

And here's another: every child has the right to an education. Five-year-olds belong in school.

Averting a stroke, I noticed that several commenters wondered how others would have felt if the working child in the photo had been blonde. Then again, some fondly remembered their days picking blueberries as children, a pleasant Sunday outing with their folks, and wondered what all the fuss was about.

I know better than to even glance at comments, but this time I'm glad I did. Otherwise I might not have believed such relativism and rationalization was possible. Here's another idea: if it's not good enough for your children, it's not good enough for "their" children either.

It occurs to me that the words "cruelty-free food" is usually associated with the treatment of farm animals. But all food is the product of human labour. When will our fruits and vegetables be cruelty free?

United Farm Workers

UN Convention on the Rights of the Child

Global March Against Child Labour

5 comments:

impudent strumpet said...

if it's not good enough for your children, it's not good enough for "their" children either.

Between the people who think picking fruit is a fun family outing, and the people who think physical labour and other assorted hardship builds character in kids, and the adults who bizarrely seem to begrudge children's lives being easier than their own, and they adults who are all "Kids Today with their video games - they should be outside!", I find myself doubting that that approach would get the desired reaction.

Ferdzy said...

Thanks for posting about this. Labour issues in general are a big reason why I've been eating local food for as long as I have. Our labour situation is a long way from perfect, but it's the only one where I have any possibility of direct political input. (And for better or for worse, the political level shapes an awful lot of what happens on the ground.)

L-girl said...

Yet another reason - there are so many. Thanks, Ferdzy. Nice to see you here.

L-girl said...

I find myself doubting that that approach would get the desired reaction.

Yeah, good point. I was thinking that most North Americans would object to someone forcing their kids to work long days in the hot sun picking fruit. But yeah, maybe not enough.

I think most North Americans would object to being paid so little that their 5-year-olds had to work to help support the family.

redsock said...

"Nearly half of all U.S. children and 90 percent of black youngsters will be on food stamps at some point during childhood, and fallout from the current recession could push those numbers even higher, researchers say. The estimate comes from an analysis of 30 years of national data ..."

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Fuckin' lazy kids! Pick some blueberries!