The exploitation of small children (does this include 'young adults'?) for labor. The work is often repetetive and physically taxing, in cramped and dangerous work environments. Child labor laws exist in many countries which prohibit or restrict the employment of children, though that does not mean they are actually followed. Large manufacturing corporations favor overseas labor and childlabor, as a means of cost reduction.

Child labor was very common during the early Industrial Revolution in Britain. Children were small so they were used to push carts through narrow mine shafts and clean factories because they could fit into tight spaces. They were payed nearly nothing, worked up to 16 hours a day, and were beaten if they were accused of idling. The families of these children were okay with the idea of them working because they needed the extra money, and the parents were at work all day so they thought it was better for the child to be at a job rather than being home alone. These children were as young as seven.

Factories and mines made deals with orphanages, so many of the child laborers were made up of orphans. The factory owners liked having orphans on their work-force because they could be beaten, starved, and payed absolutely nothing. Besides, if an orphan got stuck in a machine and died, nobody would find out about it because nobody cared about orphans.

"Were children exploited during the Industrial Revolution in the first half of 19th century England?"

This writeup seeks to answer this very question!

Surprisingly, there is a camp of historians who believe children were not in fact exploited.

Ever since the heyday of child labor in England during the industrial revolution throughout the 19th century, the public and the government have debated over whether English factories actually exploited children. Neither side disputes that children under the age of sixteen worked in textile and other types of factories. The sides do not agree whether or not the factory owners actually exploited the children. Of course, in order to draw a conclusion on the issue one must define the term exploit. Depending on the definition, one can draw different conclusions as to whether children were exploited in 19th century England. However, all the models of exploitation that result in the conclusion that child labor did not exploit children fall short for a variety of reasons. Not only were children exploited during the industrial revolution in England, but also early 19th century parliamentary legislation did little to curb the exploitation.

Clark Nardinelli, an economics professor from Clemson University, uses three different models of exploitation: the hard-times model, the Marxian model, and the neoclassical model. Nardinelli reaches the conclusion that factory owners did not exploit children in England during the industrial revolution. His conclusion relies on the incompleteness of the three models. In other words, Nardinelli concludes that children were not exploited in England during the industrial revolution because data does not satisfy his three models.

Borrowing a term from the popular Charles Dickens novel, Nardinelli explains the hard-times model as the emotional side of exploitation. Topics concerning the hard-times model consist of whether conditions were harsh for the children, and whether the children were forced to work for a certain firm. Nardinelli believes that one reason children were not exploited is that data shows children had a high level of mobility to move between factories, and often did so. He asserts that if children simply left their job if the conditions were unsafe, then the entire factory system would evolve to be safer. “The ability and willingness to leave if wages or conditions were inadequate should have limited the opportunities of employers to exploit children.” Because some factories entertained harsher conditions than others, Nardinelli believes children should have left the factory if the conditions were poor. Regardless, if conditions in any factories during 19th century England were severe, then there were children being exploited. Certainly, there were factories with unsafe conditions. First hand evidence from Lord Ashley’s Mines Commission in 1842 shows evidence of dangerous conditions in the work place. One young girl declares, “I wear a belt and chain at the workings to get the corves out… the boys take liberties with me; sometimes they pull me about.” Although these particular children worked in mines and not factories, the children still comprised the population of England’s child work force.

Nardinelli’s neoclassical model uses economic theory and equations to test if factory owners paid children equal to their laborious output. However, he cannot reach a conclusion because he believes “the data can be manipulated to support any conclusion on exploitation.” Competing data over the output of child workers convolutes the process of mathematically analyzing economic exploitation. Using the low range of output estimates, Nardinelli computes that children were greatly exploited; using the high estimate, factory owners must have grossly overpaid the children. Regardless of whether children were economically exploited, Nardinelli believes that a “normative paradox” arises between neoclassical exploitation and the hard-times model. In other words, he claims that increased neoclassical exploitation leads to a reduction in the number of children the factory can employ, and “reducing the amount of child labor is (in a normative sense) a good thing. Neoclassical exploitation is therefore a good thing if it accompanies hard-times exploitation.” Clearly, the endorsement of economic exploitation in order to assuage another type of exploitation is unfounded. If a factory could pay children less (increase normative exploitation), then the factory could hire more children to work (increase hard-times exploitation). Not only is the so-called paradox faulty in theory, but also it obviously did not lessen the hard-times exploitation in 19th century England because harsh conditions continued to overrun British factories.

At this point in the discourse, Nardinelli abandons the neoclassical model for the Marxian model. The Marxian model of exploitation takes into account indirect measures of exploitation, such as health, adult wages versus child wages, migration and job mobility. Nardinelli approaches the health issue with inexcusable fallacy. He claims that “counteranecdotes” regarding the health of child laborers cancels out the anecdotal evidence supporting unhealthy conditions. Combining data from all the factories, Nardinelli reaches the conclusion “that children in factories were generally healthy.” Sadly, Nardinelli supposes that conditions in one part of the country somehow speak for conditions in other parts. Nardinelli admits that in some parts of the England, child worked in unsafe factories and because unhealthy. This fact satisfies the notion that children working in factories were unhealthy in 19th century England, even though not all of the children were unhealthy.

Another method Nardinelli uses to explain why children were not exploited is to compare adult wages with the children’s wages. Before beginning to analyze wage data, one can see the referential problem of comparing the wages of children and adult. If in truth adults were exploited, and children’s wages were relatively similar to adults, then the conclusion that children were not exploited cannot follow. To compare adult wages with child wages cannot conclude anything about the exploitation of children or adults unless compared with an outside standard. Nardinelli concludes that because children worked alongside adults, child wages must have been appropriate. Otherwise, laborers would have only hired children. Whether children worked alongside adults does not shed light on the issue of exploitation. If factories exploited adults, then relative to adult wages, children would appear to have a similar wage rate, yet the children would be similarly exploited.

Even before the industrial revolution in England, many argued against apprenticeship, claiming masters exploited child apprentices. Nardinelli hails the factory system for eliminating apprenticeship. Excuse the analogy, but such an accomplishment is akin to the success of prostitution houses to reduce the number of pimp-prostitute relationships in Nevada. After the invention of the factory, owners could exploit children on a massive scale, instead of only a handful of apprentices.

Nardinelli approaches the issue of the future prospects of child workers with similar calamity. He attacks his opponent’s claim that child workers have no future prospects by stating that children “could easily be absorbed into adult employments when they came of age.” Obviously, this assertion says nothing as to the conditions of exploitation. In fact, Nardinelli basically agrees that the children have no future work opportunities other than to perform the adult version of the labor. Nardinelli also claims that the Factory Act of 1833 did much to offer education to child factory workers. As M. W. Thomas points on in his book, The Early Factory Legislation, the act of 1833 had “no mention… of education, nor was there any plan to differentiate the working hours of the younger and the older children.”

Whether factories that hired children as laborers in the 19th century competed against one another does not say much as to the exploitation of children. Nardinelli admits this, and rightly so. His lengthy data comparing competition across the child labor market does little to prove children were not exploited. As child labor continued on throughout the 19th century, the British parliament did little to alleviate the exploitation of children.

In 1802, the British parliament enacted the first significant piece of legislation affecting factories that employ children. This Health and Morals of Apprentices Act was the first in a long line of ineffective British legislation. Although the bill outlined health requirements for factory conditions, it offered no method of enforcement. The government trusted the mill-owners themselves to abide by the laws. Unpaid observers, usually local subjects and not officials, would visit the factories from time to time to check up on the mills. Still, England lacked an effective method for enforcing the act. Thomas supposes that “the act was fore-doomed to failure, and it was in fact, totally ineffective.”

Sir Robert Peel, in 1815, introduced another bill to the English parliament. The bill became law in 1819, and the act of 1802 would see amended provisions for paid inspections. Parliament based the bill on the evidence given by the Select Committee in April of 1815. Many witnesses claimed children could work long hours, while other claimed otherwise. A four-year debate raged on, while factories throughout England continued to exploit children. Finally, once the bill passed, the government established age limitations on workers. Again, Thomas discusses the failure of this legislation. “The Act was admittedly defective and it remained a dead letter.” Six years would go by until parliament would pass another act regarding child labor in factories.

In 1831, child labor suffered a great setback when parliament passed an act that repealed all enactments since 1802. Thomas remarks that the act reiterated the legality of factories to hire and use child labor throughout the night. The act retained the earliest age of employment at nine, but required mill owners to keep a “time book,” which was to be submitted to magistrates for review. Unfortunately, this piece of legislation sufficiently satisfied British lawmakers, who would not pass another law regarding child labor until the Parliament was reformed later in the century.

Parliament passed another Factory Act in 1844. This legislation reduced the work hours of children in factories to six hours per day. A large part of the act was to make provisions for superintendents and factory inspectors. Alas, factory owners found ways to curtail the effectiveness of the new law. Mill owners would frequently hide illegally employed children while the inspectors were in the factory. Also, mill owners enjoyed the right to reject state recommended superintendents. Although the price of cotton, for example, fell due to the decrease in child labor, children were continually exploited under the legislation of the Factory Act of 1844.

Clearly, regardless of Nardinelli’s objections to the fact that children were exploited in 19th century England during the industrial revolution, the English parliament did little to effectively limit the amount of child labor. While children continued to work throughout England in mills, factories, and mines, the parliament discussed petty issues and entertained long-winded committees. After forty-two years of debate, a semi-effective law finally passed in 1844, however the exploitation of children pressed on.

Use of Passive Voice in this Writeup:

I used much passive voice in this writeup because the phrase "were exploited" emphasizes the powerlessness of the children hired for labor.


Nardinelli, Clark. Child Labor and the Industrial Revolution. Indianapolis, Indiana: Indiana University Press, 1990

Thomas, M.W. The Early Factory Legislation. Southend-on-Sea, England: The Thames Bank Publishing Company Limited, 1948

Weber, Eugen. The Western Tradition. Lexington, Massachusetts: D.C. Heath and Company, 1995

Child labour is a large, and growing problem in our world. Many manufacturers are exploiting families' poverty by informing them that they may sell their son or daughter into an “apprenticeship.” Manufacturers need to employ small children because they are better for the job, but the real reason is that they are cheap. A manufacturer of carpets in Pakistan said, “Boys at this stage of development are at the peak of their dexterity and endurance, and they're wonderfully obedient -they'd work around the clock if I asked them. I hire them first and foremost because they're economical. For what I'd pay one second-class adult weaver I can get three boys, sometimes four, who can produce first-class rugs in no time."

There are many charities and charitable organisations working to end child labour in all its forms. Child labour can be something as relatively benign as a minor, forced to go out and work for their family’s survival, to something as extreme as a ten year-old being trained to kill and sent into a front-line battle or as abhorrent as child prostitution. The pressure groups are hoping that by making people aware of child labour, and working with organisations such as the United Nations, they can convince people to help put a stop to the practice.

But to do that they must examine why child labour is present in the first place. It has always been the case that in many countries a child would work for the family at home, but since the 1960s it has become more and more common for the child to be sent out of the family, and into debt bondage with a factory or sweatshop.

The children almost exclusively come from poor families in developing countries such as Pakistan. The procedure often takes the same form; first the family runs out of money, sometimes due to the main breadwinner losing their job. This will leave the family in a dire position since it is unusual in these countries for any protection for the poor to exist. It is usual for the family to know of someone in a business that requires child labour. In Pakistan for instance, most of the carpet industry is powered by children, in fact UNICEF estimates that between half a million and a million four to fourteen year olds now work as carpet weavers, this is estimated as about ninety percent of the entire work force.

Once a business has been located, either the child is taken to the factory, or a representative of the factory will come to visit the family. The representative will explain, at length, how good “learning a trade” will be for the child, and how he will be well treated, and well looked after. Sometimes it is claimed that in six months, the child will learn more than they will in six years at school. The family, blinded by these claims, and feeling their lack of money more than ever will attempt to negotiate the peshgi, a form of payment from which will be deducted “expenses,” these expenses are often fabricated and the amount that the family eventually receives is usually about one third of the peshgi. Once this has been negotiated, the child is taken way for an agreed time, usually between five and twenty years.

There is always a high demand for child labour, it is much cheaper than buying machines, or paying for adult workers, but Children are better equipped to perform the complicated tasks required of them than animals, "Children are cheaper to run than tractors and smarter than oxen," explains one Rawalpindi landowner. He prefers field hands between seven and ten years old, "because they have the most energy, although they lack discipline."

However, the child’s working life does not necessarily end at the factory to whom they were sold. In fact it is commonplace for the child to be sold to another factory, and then another, and then another, with several miles in between. The advantage of this for the employers is that once the child is an untraceable distance away, they will no-longer have to pay the peshgi to the parents. Once this happens, the child is in effect a slave.

One girl in Pakistan described the conditions that the children in one carpet factory were kept in; "For the masters, bonded children are a commodity. My master bought, sold, and traded us like livestock, and sometimes he shipped us great distances. The boys were beaten frequently to make them work long hours. The girls were often violated. My best friend got ill after she was raped, and when she couldn't work, the master sold her to a friend of his in a village a thousand kilometres away. Her family was never told where she was sent, and they never saw her again."

Many countries have signed up to UN regulations that state that no child under a certain age should be made to work for a living. Unfortunately, often these laws are unenforceable. When questioned as to why the police had not shut down a carpet factory that had been employing dozens of children, some as young as eight, authorities had this to say; "They understand best the needs of their community. Law is not an absolute. We must expect a certain flexibility on the part of those who enforce it. Could this sometimes mean looking the other way? Absolutely."

Profiteers of child labour often twist logic to justify their actions, it is this logic that enables authorities to feel justified when they allow police not to arrest or fine factory owners that utilise child labour. One of the most potent of these is claiming that the charities that campaign against child labour are hypocritical. The claim is that countries that are now prosperous enough not to make use of child labour, became prosperous through its use. It is certainly the case that much of the money that Great Britain and the United States of America have came from the slave trade and the industrial revolution. Slavery is now condemned in both these countries, and the industrial revolution was for a great part powered by children who would work the machines. This only stopped when the countries became rich enough to pay adults to work. Propagators of child labour argue that countries such as Pakistan, are simply building up their economy to a state in which it would be able to support adult labour.

“Europeans addressed slavery and child labour only after they became prosperous. Pakistan has only now entered an era of economic stability that will allow us to expand our horizons and address social concerns.” This is a quote from Shabbir Jamal, an adviser to the Ministry of Labour in Pakistan. The problem with logic such as this is that it sounds very convincing, however, it is economically untrue. In fact child labour is self-perpetuating. Manufacturers make money by producing goods at a lower price than what they sell them for. The lower the price, the more money they make. Therefore it if labour is cheap they can make more money. This creates a situation in which the person, who demands less pay, has more chance of getting a job. It is easy to justify paying children less. One child worker said “I get paid less than my father because I am smaller than him, and eat less,” this leads to adults getting paid less, since if they demand more money, they will not get a job. Given the falling wages, families are forced to send more of their children to work to support themselves, thus creating even lower wages, and more profits for the manufacturers.

With more children requiring work to support their families there is no need to invest in machines that can do their job for them.. Rather than send ten children to school and replace them with a machine, then pay one man (the children’s father) ten times a child’s pay (three times his current pay) to operate the machine, manufacturers have no need to front the money for the machine thus perpetuating child labour. Najanuddin Najmi, the director general of the Worker’s Education Program in Pakistan, addressed this problem. “If employers would apply as much ingenuity to their manufacturing processes as they do to evading labour laws, we'd have no child-labour problem There's little doubt that inexpensive child labour has fuelled Pakistan's economic growth. Entire industries have relocated to Pakistan because of the abundance of cheap child labour and our lax labour laws. At the same time, child labour has hindered our industrial development, especially in the use of advanced technologies. Why should a manufacturer invest in labour-saving technology when labour-intensive mechanisms are so much cheaper? We are discovering more and more factories that have been redesigned and retooled so that only children can work there.”

If anti-child labour laws were enforced, it is entirely conceivable that the following could happen: the first thing that would happen would be manufacturers would struggle to keep in business. The only way they could do this would be to employ adults. With the demand for labour suddenly very high, control of wages could be, for the first time, in the hands of the employees, who would be able to charge what they wanted for their services, knowing that someone would pay it. Manufacturers would not be able to replace all of their child workers with adults and therefore would be forced to buy machinery to do the children’s jobs. It is believed that the capital is there, since employers have, for years, been paying minimal wages. With children out of work, there will be more chance for education; this may enable the country to move out of poverty in much the same way as the west has.

However for this to happen, other obstacles would have to be overcome. The first, and most obvious of these is greed. Manufacturers would not like being forced to pay for machinery and would protest. There was a case of a government in the third world attempting to impose a modest tax on the manufacture of carpets, with the intention of putting the money into schools. Carpet manufacturers refused to pay the tax, and launched such a strong campaign, that the government was forced to repeal that tax. The solution to this may be education and compensation. If the first world can subsidise manufacturers, by giving them grants to pay for the equipment (not loans, that has been tried and simply leads to perpetuating poverty since there is no opportunity to progress further due to repayments).

This can be combined with a campaign that a campaign that explains, and convinces manufacturers that in the long run they will make money out of this scheme (this is true, since eventually they will be able to mass-produce their product, and therefore sell more, they will also be employing less people, and, due to extra jobs being created elsewhere, for instance in manufacturing to the machines, they will be paying less in wages overall.

However, to implement these plans charities and governments would have to overcome propaganda, suspicion and paranoia. Often education campaigns are dismissed as “communist propaganda” this, (aside from being a manifestation of the general misconception that all communist ideas, including those relating to worker’s rights are a bad thing), is inaccurate, since the solution proposed is utilising capitalism, by giving the manufactures the capital to convert their businesses to modern means of production.

It is well known that often the governments and police are in the pockets of the manufactures, and so will be unwilling to accept new ideas, for fear that they are wrong and the corrupt politicians will not get their bribes. Government workers will make claims that there is no child labour in their country, "Our industry is the victim of enemy agents who spread lies and fictions around the world that bonded labour and child labour are utilized in the production of hand-knotted carpets. They are not and have never been," this quote was given by a politician in a building, literally metres away from a factory, or sweatshop in which hundreds of children were forced to work up to twenty hours in a row.

There may even be problems with convincing the workers that this will be a good thing. The workers have often been instructed not to talk to westerners, believing them to be communist agents, or in Pakistan, Indian spies. One charity worker reported that every child she talked to replied the same way, “please sir, I have nothing to tell you, please let me go.” Coming up against this sort of opposition, it is even difficult to convince the children, or their parents that they are being exploited.

Child labour is institutionalised in many countries, UNICEF estimates that the number working children under sixteen, exceeds two hundred million. With governments believing that their country’s economy relies on them, with manufactures believing that they need the children to produce their products, with parents needing to feed their families, and with children being told they have to work, that number is likely to keep growing.

Presentations given at the United Nations Working Group on Contemporary Forms of Slavery focus.asp?Issue=childlabour&Language=EN –

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