The answer, according to almost all company statements on the topic, is never.
But I’m suggesting that it is acceptable, sometimes.
Why do I suggest this?
Because of the reality of the poor in developing countries.
Look at a real life scenario that one of our readers put to me as a dilemma they faced, then decide, and post your comment. (I don’t moderate them now)
Scenario: You find child labour in a supplier factory in Latin America
A) Pull production
B) Engage the supplier to take the kids out of the workforce and audit them to check
or C) Understand that making the supplier sack the under-age workers does not solve the local systemic poverty issues, will likely worsen circumstances, so set up a programme that means the kids can both work safely, and attend school.
Most brands would choose A or B, from what I know.
Brave companies sometimes choose C, but cannot talk about it in public, lest the voracious modern media/campaigner machine gets hold of it and causes the CEO embarrassment.
It would be a brave brand that went public on option C.
But that day is surely coming. We need a more mature debate about this most difficult of topics considering how many more children will be on the planet in the coming decades.
Option C is when child labour is acceptable. When it is by far the best of three bad options.
Tell me I’m wrong…But when doing so remember that there are specific examples of child labour eradication in places such as Pakistan (Sialkot, footballs) and Bangladesh (garment factories) that have resulted in thousands of women and children being put out of work, to a worse fate than working in a factory or at home, as a result.
(FYI, a recent EC feature on living wages is here)