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Child Labor in Turkish Cotton Industry Research Paper

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Updated: Jun 4th, 2020


The global initiatives pertaining to child labor have been successful to a great extent in reducing the instances of child labor in the developing countries. International organizations such as the ILO and UN have initiated various programs with an aim to alleviate the plight of child laborers in developing countries. Cotton industry is one of the major revenue earning industries in Turkey. Unfortunately, this particular industry is infamous for employing children who are under the internationally approved minimum age to start working. Though the Turkish government is taking admirable steps towards eradicating this menace, a lot need to be done because even today there are children the specified age limits of 15 years who work in cotton fields.


The cotton industry is one of the major revenue earning businesses around the globe and is considered to be the most preferred fiber for clothes. Cotton is grown in dry areas where sun shines in abundance. Cotton irrigation requires a lot of manual labor and as such there is a lot of demand for people willing to work in the fields. Over the years, due to an increase in demand for better quality and quantity of cotton in the industrialized nations, pesticides are used in the fields to boost production. As is understood, pesticides pose great health hazards for the people working in the fields. Among the workers who work in the fields, the percentage of child labor is considerable.

Child labor in the cotton industry is not new; it was there even 200 years back. Today, most of the children (those who are employed) work in the plantation and picking of cotton. Some children also work in establishments that make cotton products. Featured below are pictures of children engaged in various activities of cotton irrigation and processing:

Children engaged in various activities of cotton irrigation and processing. Children engaged in various activities of cotton irrigation and processing.

It is very awful that children as young as 5 years old are sent to work in the cotton fields. Some of them are even sent away from their homes to work in cotton fields; this happens especially during the harvest time when there is ample work load. In spite of the fact that education was made compulsory for children between 5 to 8 years of age, these children are employed at the cost of their education (Bahar, 2011).

Such instances of child labor defy the norms of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and Social and Environmental Reporting Assurance (SERA). The main objective of SERA is to ensure that we do not practice such actions that might endanger the purity and peacefulness of the earth and its inhabitants. Sustainability is the capacity for continuance in the long term. Sustainability in the context of organizations encompasses the social, environmental and economic impacts of a business or other organization. These impacts are judged in terms of the extent to which they contribute to sustainable development. There is always a requirement of reliable and correct information from the management in order to manage the company’s environmental and social risk factors. The same applies to the stakeholders who demand assurance that the company documents or report is trustworthy (KPMG, 2002). CSR was initiated to start a model of reporting that would concentrate on the financial, social and environmental issues.

The issues covered under SERA are:

  • Social issues like human rights, child labor, standard of living of the workers, and multiplicity;
  • Environmental issues like pollutions, emissions, wastage of natural resources, wastage of energy, and environmental management systems; and
  • Economic issues like financial performance.

Research problem and issue

Research problem

Child labor is a menace that is prevalent throughout the developing countries in the world. Several international organizations are engaged in safeguarding the interests of children. Child labor puts the physical and psychological health of children at great risk. A certain age is specified under which it is illegal and against the society norms to employ children. All the works done by such children cannot be considered to be against society norms. There are children who work in order to gain experience and even contribute towards their family’s income. However, this should be optional, meaning that it should be left up to the children to decide whether they want to work or not. It is understandable that when children are asked to do such work forcibly, it becomes child labor.

Research issue

In Turkey, cotton industry is one of the major contributors to the country’s economy. It is also the country’s largest industry sector that employs children under the specified age. Organizations and people engaged in this particular segment employ children under the age of 15 (Caliskan, 2007) which is unconstitutional according to the country’s law.


Considering the significance of the topic, the researcher referred various reports and surveys. The official website of the International Labor Organization (ILO) was also referred in order to understand the international laws pertaining to child labor. Other referred material included scholarly articles, journals and books. Authentic and reliable websites were also referred to understand the meaning of SERA and CSR.

Background information / Literature Review

Children can be seen working in most of the developing nations around the world and Turkey is no exception. Rural areas have more instances of child labor but even in urban settings, children are employed in streets, restaurants and homes. While children employed as street vendors and restaurant workers get some emoluments, those working at homes are not paid. It is estimated that almost half a million (almost 4.2 percent) children under the age of 14 years and a little more than one million (almost 28 percent) children between 15 to 17 years of age are employed in various establishments (Dayioglu & Assaad, 2002).

Some scholars believe that the figures, that are a result of a countrywide survey, are miscalculated and the actual figures could be more than this. Whatever the case, it is a fact that hundreds of thousands of children are employed in Turkey. The ILO, in 1992, influenced the Turkish government to implement the ‘International Program on the Elimination of Child Labor’ (IPEC) in the country. The program was well acclaimed and accepted by the people, with the exception of some critics. The ensuing years witnessed more laws pertaining to child labor being initiated in Turkey. In 1997, it was made compulsory for children between 5 and 8 years to go to school. In 1998, the minimum age that a child could work was raised to 15 years and later in 2001, the Turkish government made it illegal to engage children in the worst forms of labor (Dayioglu & Assaad, 2002).

The working hours in the cotton fields depends on the activity, salaries offered and the requirement of labor. The wages of labor working in cotton fields is determined by the daily output. As is obvious, laborers work hard to give better output. For this, they have to start work early in the morning and work until late evenings. Since the work in cotton fields demands great physical work, the laborers get exhausted by the end of the day. During such work they get several physical injuries as well (Serinken et al., 2012).

The most affected among such laborers are the children who also work side by side the adults. They do not get proper nutrition and as such they get physically and mentally weak. A majority (75.5%) of male child laborers in the age group 6 to 14 years works for 12 to 15 hours daily. About 23.4% of children in this age group work for 8 to 11 hours daily and only 1.1% work 4 to 5 hours daily. The difference in the working hours of male children in the age group 15 to 17 years and those in the age group 6 to 14 years is not much. A majority (72%) of male child laborers in the age group 15 to 17 years works for 12 to 15 hours daily.

About 28% of children in this age group work for 8 to 11 hours daily and only 0.8% work 4 to 5 hours daily. The condition of female child laborers is also appalling. Almost 76.9% of female child laborers in the age group 6 to 14 years work for 12 to 15 hours daily while 21.5% work for 8 to 11 hours daily. The percentage of female child laborers working between 4 to 5 hours is 1.6 (Gülcubuk, Karabiyik & Tanir, 2003).

Gülcubuk et al. (2003) further claimed that almost 10.6% male children and 2.7 female children were put to work at the tender age of 6 years. The maximum percentage of children started working at the age of 7 to 9 years which includes 44.6% male children and 49.6% female children. Children in the age group 10 to 12 years were not far behind in starting to work; 36.8% male children and 39.5% female children. The percentage of children above this age group who started to work declined; 7.1% for children between 13 and 15 years and 1.0% for children between 16 and 17 years.

All such problems can be countered if organizations adhere to their CSRs. CSR is an important mechanism of accountability. During the 1990s, there were not many companies that published their CSR. Now that the company doors are open for stakeholders, people have started taking interest in the CSRs of companies. The chart at ‘Appendix 1’ depicts the percentage of people who have read or heard of a company’s social or environmental report.

Today, the world is full of competitions in all walks of life. Owing to the technological developments and the businesses growing on a worldwide level, it has become very essential for business houses to follow business ethics in order to gain public support and to enhance the image of their business. There are many plus points of following the business ethics but the demerits of not following the business ethics are countless.

During the years, owing to the great effect that business ethics have on a business, organizations have started laying greater stress on adhering to the business ethics. There are many instances during the performance of a business where the performers are confronted by the business ethics. Basically, there are two kinds of ethics that business houses should follow namely, personal ethics and organizational ethics. In both the situations, it is crucial to know what exactly should be the individual’s or the organization’s conscientiousness in any particular business. For individuals, it is a greater task since they tend to have different ethical values outside the organization. While in the organization, individuals have to act differently, according to the business ethics of their company.

Pro evidence

In 1992, the ILO initiated a landmark program that addressed the plight of working children (child labor) at the global platform. The program was called the IPEC and was targeted mainly at countries such as Turkey, where there were abundant instances of child labor. The member nations (including Turkey) were suggested to cooperate with each other in resolving the critical issue of child labor through sharing expertise and funds (ILO, 2009).

Turkey has taken several measures to combat the menace of child labor prevailing in the nation in general and the cotton industry in particular. Since the implementation of IPEC, the nation has come a long way towards eradicating child labor, which is gradually but steadily becoming an issue of the past. Turkey adheres to the Conventions (No. 138 and No. 182) of ILO and strictly opposes child labor (before the specified age limit) and the ‘worst forms of labor’. The nation has made several amendments in its legislation pertaining to child labor and it is believed that the day is not far when no instances of child labor would be found (ILO, 2009).

Con evidence

In their survey of 2003, Gülcubuk et al. (2003) claimed that even after 11 years of the implementation of the IPEC program, Turkey did not seem to come out of the shadow of child labor. Referring to a survey conducted by SIS in 1999, Gülcubuk et al. (2003) stated that almost 10.2 percent of Turkey’s children were employed in some or the other job. The survey further claimed that almost 66.2 percent of these children were employed in rural areas.

Among the employed children, 58.8 percent worked at homes (unpaid labor). The condition of children working in the agricultural sector was very pathetic. Due to scarcity of funds for purchasing machinery, rural families who had irrigational farms (for cotton) were forced to take the help of their children in the fields. Moreover, when such small enterprises were unable to earn enough livelihoods from their farms, they were forced to migrate to urban areas and work along with their children. Such migration depended on the season and the duration varied between three and seven months.

The United Nations (UN) took notice of this serious issue and awarded special status to children by way of the ‘Convention on the Rights of the Child’. The Convention received great participation from the UN member countries but despite the global support, only a few children are able to enjoy the benefits (Arat, 2002).

In spite of the claims of the Turkish government, the UN and the ILO about their successful efforts towards eradicating child labor, the prevailing condition of children suggests something else (Akin, 2009). According to a survey conducted by TurkStat in 2010, almost 6% of children from 6 to 17 years were employed (Child labor in Turkey, 2010).

Conclusion / Summary

When we talk about SERA or CSR, the motive or intention that lies behind is social welfare and environment protection. There are some more scopes of SERA and CSR, but these two are the major ones. We should be responsible for our actions and at the same time spread the awareness of the negative aspects of child labor. The Turkish government has taken some serious steps towards putting the concept and practice of child labor to an end. It remains to see whether such steps would bring some encouraging results or not.


Children are the future of all societies and parents need to understand this. It is true that due to their helplessness and need, parents are forced to employ their children, but at the same time, they should understand that by doing so, they are spoiling their children’s future. The world is in the 21st century and there are various means to combat poverty. Financial institutions can be approached for loans. Moreover, there are several genuine charitable organizations that are ready to help the needy. Such charitable organizations would feel obliged to help alleviate the plight of children.

It is always better and smart to avoid a mistake than to rectify it. So in this context also, we all should try to follow the guidelines set by the governing bodies of SERA and CSR. It is not that only the business houses or corporations are responsible. We, as human beings, are equally responsible. The difference is the magnitude of the responsibility. My recommendation is that we should spread the awareness about SERA and CSR and also about the benefits of educating our children. For the major works, we have very competent people sitting on responsible posts. Nonetheless, since I have to make some recommendation, I would suggest that the governments of different nations should come forward with some sort of mandatory awareness and training sessions for the general public. This will surely make some impact.

Presentation Paper

Towards the end of 19th century, big business owners, who were really concerned about the social abuses and demands of labor unions, started the concept of CSR. They constructed abodes and medical facilities in order to improve the living standards of their employees. This gesture paid back. The employees were motivated and there was a decrease in the worker turnover. This happened because the business houses cared for the society and in return, the society cared for the business houses. This is a small example of business ethics where ethical leadership plays a major role. Business Ethics means the moral principles that a business should follow while performing its functions.

Unfortunately, such business ethics seem to be of no concern to people who engage child laborers in their cotton fields in Turkey. Even though the Turkish government, in association with international organizations such the UN and ILO, is trying its best to counter the efforts of such people and businesses, the plight of children, especially in rural areas does not seem to end. In my opinion, the financial condition and lack of education are the two main causes that act as barriers to the initiatives of the Turkish government.

It is understood that the Turkish government has made education compulsory for children in the age group of 5 to 8 years, but the execution part is not very encouraging. Moreover, besides education, the financial aspect should also be considered by the government. Subsidized loans should be provided to families who strive for sustenance from their small farms that are either owned or rented.


Akin, L. (2009). Working conditions of the child worker in Turkish labor law. Emply Respons Rights, 21(1), 53-67. Web.

Arat, Z. F. (2002). Analyzing child labor as a human rights issue: Its causes, aggravating policies, and alternative proposals. Human Rights Quarterly, 24(1), 177-204. Web.

Bahar, O. S. (2011). “Education is important but…”: Low-income Kurdish migrant mothers’ beliefs about child education and child labor. Journal of Global Social Work Practice, 4(2), 1-16. Web.

Caliskan, K. (2007). Markets and fields: An ethnography of cotton production and exchange in a Turkish village. New Perspectives on Turkey, 37(1), 115-145. Web.

. (2010). Web.

Dayioglu, M. & Assaad, R. (2002). The determination of child labor in urban Turkey. Web.

Gülcubuk, B., Karabiyik, E., & Tanir, F. (2003). Baseline survey on worst forms of child labor in the agricultural sector: Children in cotton harvesting in Karatas, Adana. Web.

ILO. (2009). Ending child labour: A comprehensive review of Turkish experience. Web.

KPMG. (2002). International Survey of Corporate Sustainability Reporting. KPMG Global Sustainability Services. The Netherlands: De Meern. Web.

Serinken, M., Turkcuer, I., Dagli, B., Karcioglu, O., Zencir, M., & Uyanik, E. (2012). Work-related injuries in textile industry workers in Turkey. Turkish Journal of Trauma & Emergency Surgery, 18(1), 31-36. Web.

Appendix 1

Percentage of people who have read or heard of a company’s social or environmental report-selected countries.
Percentage of people who have read or heard of a company’s social or environmental report-selected countries, 2004.
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