1. it’s not just Apple that does it
2. it’s more common than some, including myself, have realised.
Why do under-age workers work?
According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), the 2 main causes of child labour are poverty and inadequate education.
Poverty can cause children to work so that they can earn some money so that their family has enough, or at least more than they would have had otherwise, so that they can eat and potentially provide for other necessities. They can get work for their children by forging documents so that they appear old enough to legally work, which has been the case with at least one of Apples suppliers.
Inadequate education can destroy someone’s chances of getting a high-skilled job, forcing them to get a lower-skilled job, such as with the companies that supply components for Apple and Samsung. There can also be cultural reasons why children prefer to work than go to school if there is a school available to them, according to the ILO, such as the perception that education is not a viable alternative to work, which at first glance may seem odd. One reason for this is the opportunity cost of foregone income from working when a child attends school.
What can we do to stop under-age workers from working?
Having studied economics, my first response to this would be that people’s incentives need to change. The under-age workers currently have incentives to work rather than go to school, which could be because their families lives depend on it. There are 2 things that can change to reduce their incentives to work.
Firstly, if the under-age workers families had enough money to get food and other necessities, then the children would have less reason to work than they would if their family couldn’t buy food. This would reduce the opportunity cost of the children attending school. So, if the parents of the under-age workers earned more money.
Secondly, the children would need to have more incentive to go to school, or their parents would need to have more incentive to send them to school. In other words, education would need to become more valuable than work for them, whether that value be real or perceived. Education could gain more real value if the government paid the families of the under-age workers to send the children to school rather than to work, for example. The perceived value of education depends, at least in part, on the culture of a country, which is usually hard to change quickly.
I suspect that child labour will not stop completely any time soon, but I believe that it is possible to remove it if those who are currently in or considering such work will not choose to undertake such work if they have sufficient incentives to do so.