Last week I published a blog post called, “Are the things we buy made responsibly?” The post was about a Panorama documentary which had exposed Marks and Spencer for using children to manufacture their clothes – child labour.
I’ve never been the sort of person who kicks up much of a fuss or fights for rights or is particularly passionate about law etc, but this made me really cross. So much so that I went back to the store and returned my latest purchase from M&S because I felt sickened by the thought that a child might have had to produce my clothes.
I even went to the next step of writing a letter of complaint to M&S… though I am yet to hear back from them. (It’s been a few days now but don’t worry, I have sent them a gentle reminder via twitter.)
Following the publishing of this post I was met by an awesome flurry of comments which really got my brain ticking and gave me lots of food for thought. One of my readers, Mary, had this to say,
It was this which got my brain ticking even more than usual. I began to ask myself a lot of questions.
What can we do to help people who are stuck working for employers like this?
I think we can help them fight, help them take their employers to court.
How can we do that?
We need more lawyers in this world. We need more people who can stick up for those that are being exploited.
How can we get lawyers to those people? How do we know who needs help? Where do we find the funds and resources to help them? Where do we find the lawyers?
It is all starting to sound like a massive charity.
How on earth can I, Sandeep, who lives a billion zillion miles away from these troubles, set up a charity, help those in need, give them a place to turn to, give them free support, whilst understanding and following local laws? I simply can’t do it.
So what can be done?
Someone else needs to step up to the plate. Perhaps there is an organisation already out there that can help those people. I hope there is. If not, then I hope someone will make it happen.
Then from there what happens next? How can companies like M&S do their best to support this? How can they help stamp out child labour in areas where they’ve been found to have children working indirectly for them?
Well frankly they should support the victims. They should support the charities that can help these people. If you are going to go abroad and ask people to work for you, directly or indirectly, then you need to provide the support to make sure that those people get treated fairly. Those that aren’t treated fairly, should be provided with the support that they need, and this should be paid for by the companies that instructed the work in the first place.
So if any of the above was ever put into practise, this is what I’d expect to see…
Following the Panorama documentary, upon discovering the use of child labour from factories which work directly or indirectly with you (M&S), you would support those who have been exploited and all those poor children, via the proper channels. You would ensure that a suitable charity contacts, guides and supports the victims. You would ensure that the charity has the funds to do so. The charity would support the victims from start to finish, from giving them a place to turn to for advice, to following through to legal action if appropriate.
Then all those contractors and subcontractors, which work directly or indirectly with you, they would be held accountable for what they have done. After all this is about the real people who suffer to make the clothes. If someone is suffering because you’ve instructed a contractor who condones child labour, or subcontracts other companies that do, then at the end of the day it all starts with you.
I don’t believe that you are punishable, for what has happened, but your are accountable for those victims.
Just imagine, if you supported those charities, and the victims actually managed to take their employers to court and win cases, wouldn’t that make those companies think twice about what they are doing? At the end of the day, they’d have to compensate their victims and they’d lose contracts, so it could end up being a world of hell for those contractors.
M&S and other companies who have been caught up in the same situations, it’s time to make it harder for people to be exploited. Make it possible for victims to come forward. Make it free for victims to fight for justice, so that in the long term, things like this won’t happen any more.
Whilst I sit here and type about a ideal world where local charities can support local people, in countries far away from here, I begin to think about what I can do.
I’m not M&S, I can’t fix the problems that were raised on Panorama. I can’t bring justice for those children. Though others can. There are local people who should take good care of those around them. If this was happening on my doorstep, then I could say, lets raise funds for such a charity if it exists, or find out how to set up such a charity if it doesn’t. I’d get involved because I can help, because I am here and it’s happening right on my doorstep.
Alas I am miles away in Britain, typing away meaningless words about supporting victims and helping people, yet I’m making no difference at all.
But I can learn from this. I can open up my own eyes and discover the problems that are happening here on my own doorstep. There are people in Britain, local to me that could do with my direct or indirect support. I could volunteer or raise funds for charities. It doesn’t have to be about child labour or anything to do with employment. It can be any charity at all.
What I’m trying to say is, if I feel bad about what is happening else where, then I should hope or pray that those victims get help, and I should be the one to help those who can be helped by me here.
So when you see wrong doing and you’re reminded that it can be a cruel and harsh world out there, use that and let that drive you to make a difference to people that you might actually be able to support, and if you believe in God, then pray that someone like you will be able to answer the prays of people across the globe local to them, because there are good people around the world ready to help.