It is estimated that 200 million children across the globe are working to produce the things we buy and the food we eat. In an investigative documentary, director Shraysi Tandon and her crew take us from production of palm oil in Indonesia and tobacco in the US, to cacao in Ghana, and electronics in China, to reveal the world of child labour and the societal problems it entails.
In a sold-out cinema, the audience watched the documentary Invisible Hands, which uncovers the pervasiveness of child labour and child trafficking in the US, Hong Kong, Ghana, India and Indonesia. Child labour is defined by international standards as work that is hazardous, demands too many hours, or is performed by children who are too young. Their wellbeing is put at risk, work deprives them of time for healthy childhood play or their right to education is denied.
A booming business
Invisible Hands features children and victims of trafficking who works as slaves to produce most of the products we consume everyday. A booming business worldwide, large multinational corporations are able to offer consumers cheap products at the expense of children. The documentary portrays confronting interviews with public officials and representatives from large corporations hiding behind numerous certifications, emotional testimonies of children and youth that have been or are child workers themselves and shocking footage from the agricultural fields and sweatshops, often through the use of a hidden camera.
Documentary filming as a tool of change
“To film the undercover sequences of the documentary safely was definitely the most challenging with making the documentary. Some parts of the film would not have been possible without the help by the investigative journalist Anas Aremeyaw Anas. Filming in China was also particularly challenging due to the Government’s intolerance to revealing human rights abuses,” says Shraysi Tandon. Born in India and raised in Indonesia, she was affected by how easy it was to find cases of child slavery in places she considers home. The most shocking was the extend of cases found also in countries like the US. A common misconception is that cases of child labour, trafficking and slavery only find place in certain parts of the world, while in fact no industry or country is immune to it.
A solid piece of journalism and work of activism cinema, the director believes filmmaking can act as a tool of change by raising awareness, educate and inform about the issue. She was inspired to make the documentary after meeting one of the protagonists in the film, the human rights activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Kailash Satyarthi, who has been at the forefront of the global movement to end child slavery and exploitative child labour since 1980. He has led the rescue of over 80 000 child slaves and developed a successful model for their education and rehabilitation.
How can we end the use of child labour, trafficking and slavery?
UN Sustainability Goal 8.7 requires “immediate and effective measures to abolish forced labour, end modern slavery and human trafficking, and abolish all forms of child labour by 2025,” but how can we achieve this goal? Both the documentary and the panel discussion following the screening attempted to answer this question.
The documentary argues that the responsibility in terminating child labour should rely on the corporations. Shraysi Tandon elaborates by highlighting how powerful it could be if corporations decide to pay higher wages to workers, invest in their communities, and give parents the opportunity to make a good living and ability to support their children. Clearly many corporations, as revealed in the film, do not have systems in place for detecting child labour in their supply chains. Considering how complex the issue of child labour, trafficking and slavery is, it will require all of us to align efforts across different sectors to find solutions.
The panel discussion highlighted how structural and cultural reasons are contributing factors to the use of child labour and slavery. Although policies and regulations against child labour are in place in certain countries, the enforcement of these are often lacking. One of the panel members, Knut Bråttvik, police officer and expert on human trafficking in Kripos highlighted the need for more and better training as well as higher frequency of operations in the fields to identify cases of child labour, trafficking and slavery. Governments can do more by banning child labour, implement policies, regulations and incentives to force corporations to be proactive on the issue. Consumers can use their power by making active decisions in the marketplace, demanding more information, better labelling and certification processes for products we buy and eat.
Knut Bråttvik confirms that child labour, trafficking and slavery is a serious concern with numbers probably much higher than estimated. Documentaries like Invisible Hands can contribute to better awareness and knowledge. He encourages all of us to not walk away, but care enough to contact institutions such as Kripos and save someone from forced labour, trafficking or slavery if witnessing cases of such practices.
Invisible Hands will be screening at film festivals around the world, and reaching cinemas in the US this summer. You can follow the film on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter at InvisibleHandsMovie.