They came. Twelve older adults enrolled in the Senior Academy course at NMC titled "Applying Wisdom to Community Problems." They were asked two questions: "Who makes the products we buy?" and "Where does all the money go?"
To answer the first, Martha, Fred and Janice checked labels at some of the mall stores. They toured the world riding the labels on the backs of garments: India, Pakistan, Thailand, Indonesia, China, Chile, Guatemala, El Salvador, Mexico and more. Richard and Bob went downtown. They found a couple of stores with a much higher 'made in USA,' collection of clothing. One store even sells goods from cooperatives around the world proudly displaying the family orientated working conditions of their providers. Mary checked out a long time clothing provider in a small town.
'Who makes our clothes under what conditions?' became a dynamo for dialogue among these older adults. The class read "Child Labor in Pakistan," (Jonathan Silvers, Atlantic Monthly, February, l996). An estimated 6 million Pakistani children under ten years old work in slave-labor conditions, many producing clothes for western outlets.
Discussion followed: "Should clothes made from countries like Pakistan be boycotted?" "Is it possible that some children in some countries may be working in safe conditions as part of the necessary family support?" "Should countries be named that abuse children through bad labor conditions?" The class discovered that public pressure applied to companies like Nike, Gap, Starbucks getting products from foreign countries to eventually establish principles of fair labor practice including prohibiting child labor.
The class went "online" through the computer room at the University Center. For some of these wise ones, it was the first time they'd held a mouse, tracked a cursor, or pursued the dictates of a menu atop a window to the electronic world. One found the "Sweatshop Watch" activist line. Another, the full copy of the Child Labor Deterrence Act (HB 2065/S.706) which if passed would prohibit the importation of goods produced with child labor.
At the next class Fred told the story of how a friend of his, many years before the Surgeon General labeled cigarette packs with a warning, handed out cards to people, describing the dangers of smoking. The class quickly transferred the technique to a way they cold help stop child labor. They spent a couple of hours reaching consensus on the content and design of a card they could use to hand out to people. Bob formatted it. Tom found a printer who offered to print it for free. Now twelve older adults are applying their wisdom and action to a world-wide community problem: Child Labor.
NOTE: A global report by the U.S. Department of Labor about child labor can be found on the Internet at:
Return to the Index of Synapse 35, Spring Equinox 1996