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Re: do all of MJRs subjects sound like they were ripped from the Daily Mail?

Steve Langasek <vorlon@debian.org> writes:

> (In the present instance, I'm unconvinced that it's realistic for Debian
> to police the entire clothing manufacturing process without drastically
> limiting the number of vendors we license to, because so much of the
> clothing industry /is/ an unethical mess; but it would be nice if we
> could actually have that conversation, instead of setting up strawmen
> about software licensing.)

Child labor is also a particularly touchy area on which I think the
consensus is nowhere near as clear or obvious as some would like to
present.  A lot of the anti-child-labor discussions seem to assume that
the alternative to child labor for the children involved is some sort of
first-world idyllic childhood.  In at least some of the countries
involved, the economic reality is that the alternative to child labor may
be starvation, prostitution, or something else even more repugnant, and
varies a lot by individual case.

Also, while I firmly approve of dictating ethical standards to
multinational corporations based on the first world, even when they're
operating in other countries, dictating labor laws to companies and
governments of poor countries, even with strong motivation, has a certain
air of imperialistic paternalism that I find difficult to swallow.  It has
been normal for most of history for people of an age that we currently
define as "children" to work to support their families, and that we no
longer need this in the developed world is a sign of our material wealth
as much as it's a sign of any particular moral principles.  It's one thing
to try to impose universal standards of human rights; it's another to
demand poor countries provide to their citizens a first-world standard of
living.  The line inbetween is highly murky and difficult to draw.

Please note that I don't say this in general opposition to the various
political movements against child labor.  There are many labor practices
under that umbrella that are repugnant, clear violations of human rights,
and need to be stopped.  All I'm saying is that it's all good and well for
(comparatively) rich, white, European or American middle-class people to
wag our fingers at child labor and say that children should be in school
and not working.  It's quite another to figure out how to get there in a
realistic fashion without just making arbitrary rules from our privileged
external perspective that actually interfere with the ability of a family
to feed itself and have a hope of moving a few steps up out of poverty.

There are organizations that understand these complex issues and do draw
these lines and try to analyze child labor at a more granular level than
just "it's bad, stop immediately," and I'd be happy to support Debian
action to comply with the recommendations of such a well-respected
organization that understands both sides of the issue.  But this is a
place where I'd be very leery of knee-jerk reactions that assume a
developed-nation model of how childhood is supposed to work.

Russ Allbery (rra@debian.org)               <http://www.eyrie.org/~eagle/>

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