Published: April 30, 2015
Mark Meaney, Business Ethics

For those who might have a concern about the values of the upcoming generation, I can say based on recent experience, rest assured. I had the honor of serving as a Judge last week for the Colorado chapter of the Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA) statewide business case competition held at Vail. FBLA is a national organization that supports high school students who are interested in pursuing a career in business. I was asked to judge the business ethics case competition.

The topic focused in on global business and the use of child labor. I must admit, I learned a lot! An estimated 215 million children around the world are engaged in child labor. Of these, more than 115 million are trapped in the worst forms of child labor. The FBLA students were passionate, engaged and well-informed. They expressed their outrage at the fact that children make up an alarming portion of the workforce throughout much of the developing world. These children are robbed of their childhood in order to provide economic benefit to their families in an effort, as one team put it, ‘to move out of misery and into poverty’.

I was most impressed with the quality of the research. One team used the UN’s Millennium Goals as the basis of analysis, while another quoted liberally from Jeffrey Sacks’ book, The End of Poverty. Still other teams referenced everything from the UN Declaration of Human Rights and the principles of the UN Global Compact to ILO Convention No. 182 and the International Initiative on Exploitative Child Labor.

Students most often cited family dynamics, public education systems and culture as major contributors to child labor. They recognized that child labor is not solely perpetuated by economic need, but that it is embedded in culture and society as well.

The top three teams each argued for a holistic approach to address problems at a local level through improved education programs and economic alternatives for families. The approach requires multi-stakeholder collaboration and action with public and private sector organizations working together with the local communities. The winning team argued that the private sector can help by building economic and financial systems that provide credit to poor communities and thereby reduce the likelihood that households will need to resort to child labor in order to meet basic needs.

This experience left me heartened by the depth of commitment on the part of this next generation of students to address the world’s most pressing problems. I hope they choose to come to Leeds!