National Consumers League

The real cost of cheap goods: The scary truth behind some Christmas ornaments


makiBy Reid Maki, Director of Social Responsibility and Fair Labor Standards With the holidays upon us, many American look forward to trimming their Christmas tree and spending time with their loved ones, especially their children. For many kids, Christmas invokes the happiest of memories, but not all kids are so lucky. Former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who is now the United Nations Special Envoy for Global Education, noted earlier this month that many children in India are virtually enslaved in sweatshops that manufacture Christmas ornaments. Check out what Brown had to say in this video and learn about the “nightmare” suffered by Indian children who make ornaments for consumers in the U.S. and other countries in the Western hemisphere. In the video, Brown talks about a rescue raid by Bachpan Bachao Andolan (BBA) which freed 14 of the child laborers—some as young as eight—from a sweatshop in Delhi. BBA, like the Child Labor Coalition is a member of the Global March Against Child Labor, an international umbrella group that works to reduce the worst forms of child labor. “Children are being asked to work 17, 18, 19 hours a day,” said Brown. “They are being asked to work in unsanitary conditions. They are being asked to work without sunlight. Some of them are lacerated because they are working with glass. We found these children in this basement, they were not being paid, they had been trafficked…” Several children had been beaten by their crew leaders. The rescuers actually found 12 of the children imprisoned in a locked 6-foot by 6-foot cell. The children are now free, but many children around the world are not so fortunate. Brown notes that there are tens of thousands of sweatshops around the world, where grossly underpaid workers, including many children, produce goods for us. “The people I know in America who do not want to celebrate Christmas on the backs of the exploitation of these young children would be appalled if they knew that these decorations and trinkets and gifts and presents were coming because children had been violently kept prisoner to make these goods.” The UNESCO Institute for Statistics notes that 61 million children around the world of primary age do not attend school—often because they work instead. “That’s an unacceptable thing for 2012,” said Brown. India is currently considering a ban on all child labor for workers under 18. However, even if the ban passes, enforcement of the law would provide enormous challenges. In its annual report this year, the U.S. Department of Labor found that 134 goods are still produced by forced labor and child labor in 74 countries. In India, children help produce more than 20 different goods ranging from bricks to carpets to leather goods and often do so under the harshest conditions. As you put up and take down your Christmas tree and put the bulbs away, think for a moment about the small child who might have made those decorations, who might have been beaten because he or she did not work hard enough; who may have cut his or her hand on the glass of broken bulbs; or who dreams of the school that he or she is not allowed to attend. When we buy products at ridiculously low prices, there is often a reason for those low prices. The real cost—as Gordon Brown notes—may be the freedom and the safety of children. Read Brown’s excellent Huffington Post column about the raid here and check out what other products we use that may be manufactured by child labor and forced labor. Consumers who wish to support the Child Labor Coalition’s and the National Consumers League’s efforts to educate the public about child labor issues may make a donation here.