Changing Views On Child Labour

Something has changed and The Guardian is coy. It writes that Child Labour Doesn't Have To Be Exploitation. For decades The Guardian and the NGOs/charities that advertise on its pages have attacked child labour.

So censorious were they that even the humble newspaper round succumbed. No longer could a 15 year-old girl take a job as a pizza waitress or a barrista without the wag of pointy fingers. The sterotypical Guardianista transferred the stigma associated with the abuse of very young labour to shoo all children indoors, so that a teen should sit in front of the telly rather than earn a small income, which many would say is ridiculous.

So what has changed? A seminar held last month by Palladium said we should take account of cultural context. To my mind that works in the opposite way. The jobs that western kids used to do were much safer and better paid than African water carriers.

But Palladium's arguing in the opposite direction, as in, "they don't expect as much from life" or their parents need help. The author of The Guardian's article is Elizabeth Sibale, Deputy Chief of Party and native Malawian, who asked the seminar whether “the international concern on child rights is relevant to Africa.”

Palladium looks at first like another vague foundation, its purpose hidden behind far too many partners and fellows on its 'about' page, largely white, well-heeled versions of what Antoine de Caunes' TV show used to call Eurotrash.

Palladium is a global leader in the design, development and delivery of Positive Impact - the intentional creation of enduring social and economic value.

"Palladium’s annual statement for 2019 was recognised as being within the top 60% of the UK government’s 100 largest suppliers."

Hmm... that's pretty substantial. More than aid and consulting.

Palladium International Limited is a private company registered in England, with offices in the U.S., UAE, Nigeria, Indonesia and Australia, and 2,500 staff in more than 90 countries.

To a business journalist those countries says extractive industries like oil, mining and minerals.

"Our supply chain consists of external businesses, self-employed consultants and business partner organisations located within the UK and overseas. Due to the nature of our work, we recognise that some of our supply chains operate in high-risk environments for modern slavery including countries with high levels of poverty..."

Despite its name and its slogan "to catalyse an enriched future for all" I find no direct connection to Pd, atomic number 46, which is used in catalytic converters to remove 90% of the harmful gases in automobile exhaust -- or any direct link to mining or enrichment.

It's beginning to look like a somewhat wayward marketing idea.

It runs Partnerships for Forests (P4F) which is funded by UK government - but I find little about trees.

What I do find a lot of, is job adverts relating to the Sahel, the strip across the broadest part of Africa, from the western tip of Mauritania and Senegal on Africa's Atlantic coast, through Mali and Burkina Faso, Niger, Nigeria and Chad, to Sudan and Eritrea bordering the Red Sea.

Composite satellite photograph, C.C., Flockedereisbaer

Wikipedia tells me the region is one of the richest in the world in terms of natural resources, including oil, gold and uranium.

Enriched. Got it.

Sub-Saharan Africa is an area where former UK PM Tony Blair built such strong relationships with Rwanda's Paul Kagame after the genocide. Rwanda is a country rich in rare earth minerals like cobalt and lithium, essential to our future smart cities. It is where five states have banded together as the G5 to suppress jihadism. That might suggest that one of the muslim states is active in the region: perhaps Saudi Arabia or Turkey, which is resurgent internationally. Chad is where Bill Gates' polio vaccine went awry and began to spread the disease.

Who else is active in Sahel? The Chinese, of course, lured by those minerals integral to high tech manufacturing and consequently "our" military, American, French and British.

The current review of Britain's military has singled out the Sahel. Chief of the British Defence Staff General Sir Nick Carter, himself born in Kenya, did not talk about mining or minerals. He referred to the Sahel as a source of jihadist threat requiring intervention or at least responsibility to protect (known in the intervention business as R2P).

Still, we are not at the heart of Africa but somewhere still in darkness regarding Palladium's role.

Palladium is not averse to military jargon, sharing Gen Carter's use of 'resilience' in the context of political risk and economic stability. Palladium talks of youth outreach and training, and creating jobs in troubled regions of Nigeria and Mali, for example, (in association with USAID) but also of the pivot from aid to facilitating private investment into African economies.

"This new investment-centred approach to development is based on the idea that mobilising private capital into transparent markets is key to driving sustainable economic growth over the long term."

"Africa is the world’s youngest continent – the median age is only 18 years old, compared with 31 in Latin America and Asia, 38 in the United States, and 42 in Europe. It also has the highest urbanisation rate in the world, with almost one billion Africans projected to move to cities in the next three decades."

It points out in this document that Africa has traditionally been home to large western companies such as Unilever and Coca-Cola but to fewer foreign small and mid-sized enterprises.

So that is perhaps the background against which Palladium proposes to unlock the youthful African labour market.

A search of contracts and career opportunities turns up logistics in the fields of people, humanitarian aid and camps and facilities management (not directly military but ancillary, and perhaps useful to extractive industries in remote regions); a supply chain that can connect governments, businesses or the military in a hurry, mobilizing "private capital to address social issues while generating a financial return for investors".

This has a touch of what used to be seen as the devil-may-care wheeler dealer, that is now a kind of social, governmental, human arbitrage - with opportunities exploited across industries, civil service departments, private foundations, venture capital and NGOs, using any and all levers to move heaven and earth. Unashamedly investing - or disrupting - to "make the world a better place".

One example was logistics for the Australian military: the sourcing and supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) during the initial outbreak of Covid, securing almost a million medical items in less than a month, then using Australian military planes to transport the goods to Asia Pacific.

None of it really explains why the company should be interested in lifting the taboo from child labour in Africa unless this is an initiative on behalf of a third party.

It gives a clearer insight, however, into the role that The Guardian plays.

To be continued...

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