Do you know where your clothes were made? How about who harvested the food you ate this morning? Were the workers treated fairly? Paid a good wage? Do you know if they were adults or children? Sadly, if you ask the vast majority of people those very same questions, the answer to each and every one of them will most likely be, “I don’t know.”
In HEART’s lesson on child labor that “I don’t know” is just the jumping off point for students to start thinking about where their belongings come from and what their relationship is with the people who made them.
HEART instructor, Jeannie Russell, went to each of the 5th grade classrooms on week two of her ten-week program and talked to the kids about child labor and sweatshops. The kids were divided into pairs and given a true story to read about a child who worked in another country.
The students were asked whether or not the work was good for the child, meaning it was safe and allowed them the time to go to school, or bad, meaning the conditions were unsafe and/or they worked too much to go to school. Through those discussions, they learned what many children around the world face each day. Some are forced to work long hours in fields, others in dangerous factories and some on the street. Some even join the military.
Jeannie asked the students to partner up and, by looking at his or her partner’s tags, find out where their clothing was made. Each pair discovered that their shirts and shoes were stitched in places like China, Bangladesh, Vietnam and Indonesia (to name a few). The students realized that they knew very little about the people who made their clothes. Then, they learned that asking questions about where their clothing and other belongings come from is a great step forward to becoming a humane consumer. By doing a bit of research on a company before we hand over our cash, we can decide whether or not it is the kind of company we would feel good about supporting. As with all of HEART’s programs, we ask students to look deeper and, with their newly acquired knowledge, to make the best decisions they can to help people around the world. That could mean boycotting a company that uses child labor or sweatshops, or buying more second hand clothing. They can also start petitions or write letters to let the company know that they aren’t happy with the way they are treating their employees.
The students were fantastic as they listened and thought critically and compassionately about how children around the world live and work. That newfound knowledge is something they can easily apply to their everyday lives to help make the world a more humane place for children just like them.