Addressing Child Labour at a textile factory in Dongguan
Dongguan is a huge industrial city fuelled by approximately 40,000 factories. Handshake Worker's Hotline has built partnership with 54 factories there. F is famous as a top international brand selling electronic devices, many of its suppliers locate in Dongguan. Since brand F has purchased Handshake Worker's Hotline for one of its supplier K, a textile factory, K has become 1/54. Last year, a 15-year-old girl named Chee was found working in factory K. So Inno was invited to the remedy planning and actions in this case.
In the past 15 years, Inno used handled 25 child labour issues within the partner factories. All cases happened in Apparel industry. However, this case was out stood comparing to the former 24 cases. Because this was the first time that Inno got rid of the old rescue methodology which primarily focused on saving lives from danger but to address this through an integrated multi-stakeholder communication, career enhancement and psychological support intervention.
In time psychological support is necessary
Chee told Inno that before the task force members arrived, no one has asked what did she feel and what did she really want. Actually, she felt guilty because she thought she was the one that should be responsible for all these. "So many troubles and mess I made, I do not mean to gain compensation and other additional things from factory K." "I am worried about my mother and my brother." "How can I feel at ease and justified at home and school but watching my mother works overtime every day in factory far away from home? " …… Then, Chee went up to the rooftop. Fortunately, she did not choose to jump. But how many minor labour chose to commit suicide in workplaces just because they did not provided with in time psychological support? We cannot help stopping guess the amount. Except for the minor clients, the guardian and those workers who witness violence or death should also access the psychological support. Therefore, during the counselling of Chee, Lam has been accompanied by the rest of the team who were accredited qualifications of Social Work.
Development perspective instead of rescue perspective
Words like save, rescue and help are frequently used when Child Labour cases are discussed. And that links to the rescue perspective. It focus on in time detachment and it is useful and efficient when there is an emergency related to people's life. That's why many governments, organisations or groups are keen to handle child labour cases through rescue perspective, including Inno before 2020. In 2018, a minor client slapped one of the task force members from Inno and blamed that why the task force members were so cruel to deprive her chance to make money for her dying siblings. After that, Inno began to realise that independent on the rescue perspective to cope with this kind of cases is becoming less and less applicable. It implies the relationship between task force members and clients are unequal, and also lacks a long-term development angle. Development perspective is the upgrade of rescue perspective. It means listen carefully and fully understanding of clients' thoughts and needs, focuses on a more lasting picture. Like providing minor clients with personal development and career enhancement training resources, providing psychological support to build a more powerful resilience.
Identification and Referral
Factory K has been reported a child labour case during a random factory audition conducted by brand F. According to factory K, auditors noticed a childish face when they were at the QC workshop. At that time, Chee was packaging and labelling for the laptop bag. Chee was asked to show her ID card. The auditors found the photo on it has shown no similarity with her. Therefore, the auditors have asked Chee a few questions. She was too nervous to answer more detail questions and began to sob. Right away, Chee was withdrew from the position by factory K. But the function of the factory audition is to identify and report, not to address. Therefore, brand F contacted Inno because they need to find a third-party to intervene in this case.
Establish the Task Force
Inno has formed a task force including four members since the request. The lead of the task force took the responsibility of coordinator. Two team members are operators. And the task force also included one psychological counsellor from external organisation.
1st site investigation
Briefing -Met the contact person from factory K, Lam and chee separately.
Purpose -Build professional relationship with the involved persons. -Crosscheck the information collected from the calls before. -Learn about her feelings, experiences and expectations. -Initial assessment of her status.
2nd site investigation
Briefing -Arranged psychological status appraisal via counselling for Chee.
Purpose -Build professional relationship with the clients(Chee and Lam). -Know more about the pressure, burden and expectation of Chee.
3rd site investigatio
Briefing -Chee told the team she had a fever and felt bad, so the team went to Dongguan to visit her.
Purpose -Solidifying professional relationship with the clients(Chee and Lam).
4th site investigation
Briefing -The team knew more about Chee's expectation on her own career paths. Then discussed together about her ideal lifestyle and career planning. That has expand Chee's imagination on jobs and career during the visit and linked high quality open-source resources to her.
Purpose -Solidifying professional relationship with the clients(Chee and Lam). -Resources linking based ontakeaways of the psychological assessment report and the collected information of her planning career.
Work-related injury body check-up
Chee has worked in the position for 9 days. But she did not be arranged to do any types of health appraisal. Referring to the COC from the brand, other counterpart brands and Responsible Buisness Alliance(RBA), the examinations are compulsory. To find out whether Chee's physical condition has impaired due to the 9 days' work, Inno urged brand F and factory K to confirm the occupational safety and health examinations were conducted. Fortunately, all the physical indicators were all good.
According to the internationally accepted standard and the local regulations, factory K should provide living allowances to Chee with the amount that not lower than the monthly minimum wage in Dongguan. Referring to the past cases, Inno recommended factory K and brand F kept following up till Chee reaches 18. At last, Chee gained her compensation with the amount of CNY 18,900 (CNY 2,100 per month × 9 months) offered by factory K.
Psychological resources connecting and support
Chee thought her brother suffered from depression, so she bought a lot of books related to psychology and counselling, expecting she could make some changes in this situation. The team grasped this clue and asked Chee whether she wanted to do a counsellor for herself for this great pressure. Chee said yes and then it was brand F's turn to make the decision. In the past, when brands and factories address child labour cases, mental health was rarely included in the plan. Therefore, at the beginning, brand F thought psychological support was completely unnecessary and to provide this was out of their duty when addressing this case. Factory K also believed that offering legal and compliant financial compensation and additional training subsidies had fulfilled its responsibilities. The team explained the importance and necessity of psychological support repeatedly, and finally brand F agreed to pay for the first psychological support with the evaluation function.
Career enhancement support
Urged factory K and brand F provide access of vocational education and training opportunity to Chee referring to the international standard for child labour relief. In order to work in the packaging and labelling position in factory K, Chee gave up the days that ought to be spent on study. Therefore, factory K should be responsible for the continuing education cost and the following support. Inno provided vocational soft skills-related training courses and resources based on ProF, a female empowerment programme.
Lasting follow ups that beyond the case
Except for the actions focus on this case it self, Inno also suggest factory K and brand F can do more to prevent more cases happen in the future.
Raise the awareness of the significance of the non-judicial grievance mechanism. In factory K, the mechanism equals to Handshake Worker's Hotline. Still, the promotion of the hotline is limited. If the knowledge of the hotline can be expand to the whole factory, that would be of great help to identify similar issues and immediately conduct appropriate interventions.
Strengthen the verification of identity information during the on-boarding procedure. Factory K was inspired by the communication and promised they would try to contact the local police station for establish a more flexible identity verification mechanism.
Strict with the audition when cooperate with the employment agency. Factory K has terminate the contract with the agency involved after the case was reported.
Building relationship and connection
To build a relationship is to build trust. Different from the standpoint of factories and brands, Inno plays a role as an independent third party, as always. This role has brought both advantages and disadvantages when members in task force tried to build relationship with all the counterparts. The bright side was that Clients, factory K and brand F have been more open to the team. For the clients, Chee and Lam even made it 4 face to face encounters with the task force team members. But this was very challenging especially the Pandemic was prevailing at that time. Except the face to face interaction, the team has kept in touch with them on WeChat, a popular social media platform in China. Frequent online communication with them was also a tricky task for setting and maintaining the professional boundaries.
Spot the real needs of the minor client
Chee was still a minor when the team first met her in 2021. Therefore, Lam, as her guardian, has been always accompany Chee in each meeting. The answers or opinions has sometimes been interrupted by Lam when it came to Chee‘s narration of quitting school. The interruption imposed by Lam aroused Chee's remorse and made her feel stressful. The team had to spend more time on gentle reminding. And the reliability and validity of what Chee and Lam said to the team were also doubtful. To spot the real needs of the minor client is very time consuming because this was supported by information crosscheck through various methods like counselling and online communication.
Lessen the impact on clients' daily life
Since this case were reported during the brand audition, a lot of coworkers of Lam have been heard of the case to varying degrees. Some of them lives in the same alley with Chee and Lam's place. It might brought Chee and Lam the negative impact on interpersonal relationship because Lam has decided to continue working in factory K. Therefore, the meeting time and place of clients and the team were important. Working overtime is almost a routine for Lam on weekdays. In order to meet the team on weekdays, Lam needed to ask for leave. That would lead to reschedule of the production plan though factory K promised no punishment and no penalty and wage deduction for Lam. But no one can guarantee that Lam will not suffer paybacks from her leaders of the assembly lines. As for meeting at the weekends, challenges still exist. Factory K locates at a small town of Dongguan. Easily bump into her coworkers if the meeting is planned at the weekends in the town. So how to lessen the impact on clients' daily life is also a question and challenge in this case.
Brands can end child labor throughout the entire responsible business behavior and operation process, including supplier selection, social audits, etc., and then strengthen cooperation with civil society organisations on various issues.
Factories can keep an eye out for identifying where Child Labour risks may occur from the recruitment process, present labor regulations, and daily management. We have seen many factories have temporarily employed child labour due to various practical factors such as soaring orders and periodic employment needs. Also, we have also seen the factories do their best to eliminate child labor through setting strict regulations to insepect ID documentations. However, understanding all these is not the last mile, on the contrary, the first step to take action.
Individuals can also keep paying attention to the Child Labor issue. Not only focus on the harm and cost of child labour employment, but also try to understand the life stories and complexity behind each minor that forced into work like Chee.
We don't mean to blame brands, factories, employment agency and those individuals who have to work for a barely enough money though they do not reach the legal age of employment.
We are here to invite you to keep focusing on the Child Labour issues, try to tear the stereotype label attached and try to ponder the crux, stories and complexity hidden behind this. So that we can be one of the solid brick within the social protection floors*.
*The 2022 theme of the world day against Child Labour calls for increased investment in social protection systems and schemes to establish solid social protection floors and protect children from child labour.