The Business of Human Rights at the End of the Line

Last October I was invited to a conference on Business and Human Rights at the University of Connecticut. The conference drew together human rights advocates from trade unions, public policy, multi-national companies, civil society and academic communities from across the United States, Latin America, Europe and Asia.

Screen Shot 2018-05-10 at 7.33.24 PM.png

My job was to remind conference attendees of the very human face of those poor communities at the end of the line, who work to provide the raw materials, manufacturing and processing for virtually everything we eat, wear and use by showing video and stills from my films.

What I put on the screens for delegates to see were images of children from around the world trapped in a continuing cycle of poverty and child labor. The images included American children who work with their families to harvest our fruits and vegetables. Alll of the video and stills were drawn from the Romano Archive and special collections at UConn's Dodd Center and curated by Graham Stinnett and Brooke Foti.

For over 20 years, Robin Romano and I traveled the world, photographing children in the communities at "the end of the line". The children you will see in the report are a fraction of the 150 million who must work rather than go to school.

This week, the Business and Human Rights Initiative at UConn published a summary of the research findings from the conference, a very thorough examination of some of the best practice approaches presented at the conference. In the weeks ahead, we will highlight some of these approaches to end child labor and forced labor in supply chains.

It's all very serious business fighting poverty in poor communities  and the 200 plus attendees frequently expressed very human feelings of fatigue and discouragement doing their daily jobs of balancing business and the interests of families and children, including our own.

For my part, the pictures did the talking. But there is one important observation I shared with the delegates. If this conference had been held in 1996, when I first filmed child labor for the US Department of Labor, the  conference room would have been empty. There were no laws on the books, no representatives of business in the field and very few government or civil society activists looking at these problems. The very fact that 200 people, who work every day to improve the lives of children, can arrive and engage for two solid days around these issues is proof enough that this is a new time, a new era when the end of child labor is an achievable goal.