Child Labour: The “Unwanted Child” of Globalisation?

In one episode of “The Big Bang Theory”, an American television series, there was a scene when Sheldon, the main character in this series, had a conversation with Penny, his neighbour. In that episode, Penny tried to make a handicraft for charity and Sheldon became the timekeeper so Penny would knew how long she took to make one brooch. In the end of Penny first attempt, Sheldon said that it took 14 minutes. In a cynical tone, he added: “You are much slower than children who make Nike shoes in Indonesia”. Indeed, child labour was a sad phenomenon in Indonesia before Nike factory moved to Vietnam in 2007. At that time, as Sheldon said, most workers who worked for Nike factory in Indonesia were children.

Child Labours and International Trade

The international trade as a part of globalisation has led to some sad phenomena including child labours. A data from UNICEF indicates that children with age ranges 5-11 work at least one hour of economic work or 28 hours of domestic work per week (Menendez, 2009). In addition, the ILO’s report in 2002 shows that approximately 211 million children under 15 are working worldwide (cited in Edmonds & Pavcnik, 2004, p. 1).

According to Swaminathan (cited in Dagdemir & Acaroglu, 2010, p. 37), the “economic growth increases the demand for the child labour; especially during the lack of government intervention, labour market becomes open to child labour”. In addition, The Economist (2001, p. 79) states, “The general worldwide decline in trade barriers, such as tariffs and import quotas”, has led to the explosion of international trade. This situation creates high competition, which has forced corporations and industries to find the cheapest production cost in order to get the maximum benefits. Thus, they build factories in developing countries that have massive number of people and most of them are living in poverty so the factories can get cheap workers as Glenn states:

Many billion-dollar shoe companies prefer not to do their own manufacturing. They subcontract production with foreign businesses in Asia where workers receive rock bottom wages. The shoe companies that are participating in this cheap act include Nike, Reebok, Adidas, Puma, Hi-Tec, and many others. (Glenn, 2004)

Furthermore, in an era when multinational corporations expand across borders, countries often compete for jobs, investment, and industry (Child labour, n.d.). This competition then caused several problems especially in developing countries where people are struggling to get food as Dagdemir and Acaroglu (2010, p. 38) notes, “The developing countries’ supply side problem of child labour mainly results from phenomenon such as poverty, household, and government decisions”. In this kind of situation, parents will choose to send their children to work because it earns money instead of send them to school which will cost them a lot of money. This is the common paradigm in developing countries, which used by the corporate or industry to exploit child labour. In Pakistan, for example, children were sewing Nike soccer balls for $0.60 a day, while “in China, new workers are illegally forced to pay one month’s salary as a “deposit” which is forfeited if they do not work for a whole year” (Lormand, n.d.).

On the contrary, some people argue that child labour is just a usual impact of international trade. According to Jha and Mitra (2009), “No society in history has been able to develop without the labour of their children. At the dawn of industrial revolution, over 95% of children had to work.” Indeed, slavery that involves children is not new and some scholars argue that this phenomenon is caused more by poverty rather than globalisation (Menendez, 2009).

However, I believe that globalisation with international trade in it, has boost the number of child labours in the world since they want to minimize the cost and maximize the advantage as a consequential impact of economy principles. Thus, if the soundtrack of “The Big Bang Theory” says that everything under the sun is “all started with a big bang,” I would say that child labour is also “started” with a “big bang” in terms of the number of international trade, which is definitely caused by globalisation.


Child labour public education project. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Dagdemir, O., & Acaroglu, H. (2010). The effects of globalization on child labour in developing countries. Business and Economic horizons, 2(2), 37-47.

Edmonds, E., V., & Pavcnik, N. (2004). International trade and child labour: Cross-

country evidence (pp. 1-36).

Glenn, T. (2004). Nike’s cheap labour. from

Jha, M., & Mitra, B. S. (1999). International trade and child labour: The role of the market. The Economic Times.

Lormand, E. (n.d.). Nike’s track record. from

Menendez, A. (2009). The effects of globalization on poverty and child labour. The University of Chicago.

The Economist. (2001). Globalisation. London: Profile Books Ltd.

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