McDonald's & Child Labour

31 December 2000

(Originally published in CLB #57, Nov-Dec 2000)

of children discovered working is essential to breaking the circle
of poverty that creates conditions in which child labour can flourish.
In CLB's view the rehabilitation process is partly the responsibility
of the employer involved. Yet the recent exposure of child workers
employed by a factory producing toys for McDonald's in Guangdong
province illustrated how callously multi-national corporations can
react if they think their image maybe tarnished by sub-contractors'
behaviour. The exposure revealed two disturbing facts:

1. Management
from the subcontractor, City Toys, was proactive in its employment
of children. City Toys representatives traveled five hundred miles
to a small poverty-stricken village to find employees and made it
clear that age was not a problem, as long as the children looked
older and could obtain an older person's ID card. They wanted girls
rather than boys, as they perceived the former to be more obedient.
The company took 40-50 people, including many children, back to
the factory in the back of a lorry.

2. Following
the line adopted by other TNCs who have found themselves facing
similar accusations, McDonald's reaction was twofold: Firstly they
denied the existence of child labour, but admitted their auditors
subsequently found othe "irregularities".. Secondly, they
cancelled their contract with City Toys saying they were in violation
of the McDonald's code of conduct. This encouraged mass lay-offs
at the factory. No effort was made by McDonald's to rehabilitate
the children or ensure they were returned to school. The children
were simply cut adrift five hundred miles from home in a strange
environment and open to even worse abuse.

McDonald's attempts
to distance itself from the blatantly illegal practices of its subcontractor
without any concern for the children involved were both callous
and hypocritical. In China, the company was exposed as being linked
to the employment of under-age workers in a country where independent
trade unions - an effective tool against the employment of children
in the first place - are banned by law. Yet at the same time, the
company's preference for young employees appears to be global. In
1999, McDonald's argued that employees at a franchised outlet in
Canada could not form a union without parental consent. Why? The
company said they were too young to join a union but not too young
to work.

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