National Consumers League

The dark side of 2016 holiday gift-giving


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This blog post was originally published in the Huffington Post.

Holiday shopping season is already well underway. In fact, if you haven’t started putting your credit cards to use and checking gifts for loved ones off your lists, you might feel behind already. This year, Christmas-gift-purchasing Americans said they expected to spend an average of $831, according to Gallup—no small expense for most of us. And nearly one in three of us expects to spend $1,000 or more on Christmas gifts this year. But there’s a dark side to the enthusiastic holiday gift-buying...

 

... and giving that a majority of us doesn’t realize: many of the gifts we purchase to wear, eat, or use on a daily basis are made by the tiny hands of exploited child laborers aged anywhere from four to 17.

On six continents, in more than 70 countries, child labor contributes to the production of more than 130 categories of products—many of which will sit wrapped in foil and ribbon under American Christmas trees later this month.

Popular products that are gifted during the holidays such as diamonds, electronics, gold, and leather are produced by child labor in dozens of countries under some of the harshest conditions. Around the world more than a million children are toiling in dangerous mines producing metals like gold and tin and lesser known minerals like cobalt and tantalum that end up in our cell phones and other electronic gear. Children also work with caustic chemicals in leather tanneries—another dangerous job.

In addition to those expensive gifts, food products such as coffee, hazelnuts, and sugar cane are items that end up in classic American holiday treats like the gingerbread cookies and flavored lattes that we treasure with friends and family this time of year.

Today, an estimated 168 million children around the world are trapped in child labor, with about half working in hazardous conditions, performing back-breaking work, in dangerous heat, with insufficient protections, inadequate breaks, and lacking the physical abilities to meet the demands of work that is truly meant for adults.

Recently, the Child Labor Coalition developed the “ABC’s of Child Labor,” a short film narrated by children that explores how alarmingly widespread child labor is globally. In the brief film, four American elementary school kids go through the products—from A to Z—that are still today touched by child labor. You would be shocked to learn that, in this day and age, so many industries are still dependent on the ugliest forms of labor, that which preys on children who shouldn’t be considered eligible to perform it.

Unlike the four young narrators of the film, millions of children around the world will never have access to the education needed to become successful, prosperous, healthy adults. Instead, they spend their childhood stuck mining diamonds for tennis bracelets or harvesting cocoa for our Christmas Eve hot chocolates, robbed of that opportunity. We urge you to watch the film and to help us educate the public about the prevalence of child labor by sharing it with your friends.

America’s holiday traditions are often our most extravagant, excessive celebrations—which we look forward to, revel in, and remember fondly. But against the backdrop of the plight of young, exploited workers toiling in production of the overpriced bobbles and gadgets we lavish on each other this time of year, these gifts carry a very dark side.

We must not turn our backs from this reality, as hard as it is to face in light of the consumerism many of us embrace this time of year. If the fact that children are involved in the production of the goods you buy—in 2016—bothers you, you can do something about it. You can support the groups, like the Child Labor Coalition or its members, who fight every day to eradicate child labor in the U.S. and abroad. You can also download the Sweat and Toil smartphone app from the Department of Labor, and use it to research which products are made from child labor and forced labor.

Don’t let the opportunity this holiday season to take a stand for working children pass you by. This year, be informed about the products you purchase so you can give them with a clean conscience.