A ray of sunshine peeks through Maria’s window, picking up all the swirling dust particles in her room along with it. She stretches, gives a big yawn and shakes her younger brother awake a couple beds away. She’s the oldest of 6 at 10 years old. Today is her birthday.
Yawning and pulling the flowing black hair out of her tired eyes, she almost trips over a couple short hooligans chasing each other among the planks, boards, tin sheets, and mismatched fabric curtains that make up her family’s home in Honduras. Her mother shoves a Baleada in her hands and says “Clean up! Today’s a big day! You’re going to help your father and I take care of this family. Today’s the day you come work at the factory.”
Growing up, Maria walked her siblings to school, clothed them, fed them, washed them, and tucked them into their beds at night, fully prepared to do the exact same thing the very next day. Her parents didn’t have much time to dedicate to raising them, but nobody expected them to because if it weren’t for them, nobody would eat. Now it’d be Rodrigo’s turn to raise the little ones… she laughed to herself. That 8 year old could barely boil water without burning it, let alone take care of 4 F5 tornadoes. But that wasn’t her concern at the moment. Today was Maria’s birthday, but more importantly, today was the day she became an adult.
She scarfed down the last of her food while simultaneously pulling up her left pantleg with her left hand and pulling her shirt over herself with her right. She knew mom would leave her if she didn’t hurry: she couldn’t be late. She spotted a box she hadn’t seen before. An unremarkable, crumpled, roughly handled Nike box with the word “Cumpleaños” scrawled on top. Excited, she lifts the lid, and sees the most beautiful pair of pink and white trainers she had ever seen in her life. They were laced up in neon yellow, with even an extra pair of neon green laces. Her mother watches her lace them up in the doorframe with a glint in her eye.
“Some of the stitching is off, and the sole is a bit offset… it didn’t pass the quality control standards, but it was one of the best pairs I could fin—”
Before her mother can finish, Maria cuts her off with the tightest hug she could muster.
The pair set off on the 2 mile trek to the Nike factory that employs her family. “Thank God I’m not out there farming coffee beans with the Garcia family… I can’t believe they work for 14 hours a day! Sometimes they let us off after 11 hours if we’ve been sewing fast, right mommy?”
“Shh baby, something’s wrong.”
The labor coordinator stands outside of the familiar building with a giant swoosh on the front, but something was different this time. He was accompanied by a man nobody had ever seen before, who wasn’t Honduran, and wasn’t dressed like them. The labor coordinator was translating for him: “Due to increasing scrutiny over Nike’s child labor laws, we are forced to let go of anybody who is under the legal working age of 14, Nike is doing its best to become a global leader in sustainable efforts, and we’re starting on a local level…”
— — —
“STEPHEN!” the barista yells out. A slim man with thin framed glasses and a satchel grabs his chai tea latté and sits in a comfortable air conditioned corner, where the rays of sun are just out of the reach of his MacBook’s screen. He takes a cautionary sip, decides the coffee is too hot, sets it down, and scrolls through his daily newsfeed. He comes across an article: “Ethics Today: Nike Cracking Down On Child Labor in Developing Nations.” He double taps his airpod.
“Eric, have you checked the news today?”
“no, dude, what’s…”
“Eric they listened to us. They read our petition! Nike is making a change in their factories and have committed to only hire people of legal age to work!”
“Dude, that’s incredible! I’m in the bathroom right now though bro, let me call you back”
Stephen double taps his airpod, leans back into his chair, takes a sip of his coffee, and burns his mouth. He doesn’t care though, because he just helped countless numbers of kids not be exploited by unethical capitalist labor. Stephen smiles to himself as the rays of light around him illuminate the dust dancing in the air.
Maria’s family still needs money, and the sad truth of the world is that it’s not uncommon for laid off children turn to crime, prostitution, or simply starve to death. While on the surface it may seem like child labor is a standalone issue, once the dust settles, we realize that the issue also stems from a mentality that justifies underhanded business tactics that undermine basic human needs. Financial gain for Maria’s family is a difficult thing to secure in a capitalist system, and the responsibility ultimately rests on Nike’s shoulders. Over time, as values shift in this small global village of ours, maybe responsibilities like these will get their opportunity to be prioritized by the people who actually hold them. We take care of our own in this global village, and we can’t expect our biggest economic forces to behave like toddlers forever – because in the grand scheme of things, on a timeline level as well as a conduct level, corporations are just trying to figure out what they can get away with (like toddlers). Hopefully, they’ll be able to learn from consequences (like adults) and help pave a brighter future for Maria.