Disputing Child Labour Globally: Legitimation Struggles in the Past and Present

International Conference

9–10 November 2022

NETZ / Centre for Nanointegration (CENIDE) | Carl-Benz-Straße 199 | Room 2.42 | University of Duisburg-Essen | 47057 Duisburg

The conference explores (de-)legitimation disputes over child labour in historical and global perspective. Covering different moments in time and less-studied world regions like the historical Global South, it analyses the actors who defended (or legitimised) child labour on the one hand, and who opposed and delegitimised it, on the other; their motivations; and their (de-)legitimation practices and media.

Importantly, it seeks to examine disputes over child labour as give-and-take interactions – as a relational interplay between those who defend(ed) and those who oppose(d) it. While the conference aims at mapping child labour disputes in many world-regions, it seeks to move beyond national accounts and to situate the different cases in a global perspective. It asks:

  1. To what extent do actors, motivations, practices and media, and reciprocal interactions in (de-)legitimation disputes differ or compare (synchronically and diachronically)?
  2. How and to what extent did these actors cooperate globally or influence one another’s (de-)legitimation means, practices, and processual struggles (entanglement)?

Child Labour in the United States, documented by Lewis Hine (pictures taken between 1908 and 1917)

Child Labour today

Impressions from the Conference

The struggle over child labour is not just a good empirical example of 'politics of (de-)legitimation' in global cooperation, but also a very timely global concern. The ILO’s Global Estimates from 2018 specify that 152 million children — 64 million girls and 88 million boys — are involved in child labour worldwide, accounting for almost one in 10 of all children around the globe. With Covid, these numbers have even increased. Lastly, the polemic struggle over child labour persists today; while children who are organised in Latin American children’s trade unions have called for a 'right to work' and promoted humane child labour conditions (e.g. Liebel 1998), the ILO, by contrast, advocates for a complete abolition of child labour by 2025 as part of their struggle for the SDGs.

The conference directly corresponds to the major aim of the research stream 'Legitimation and Delegitimation' - to foreground the processual relationship between legitimation and delegitimation on a matter of global concern and global cooperation: the struggle over child labour.

PD Dr Nina Schneider

Nina Schneider is a Research Group Leader at the Käte Hamburger Kolleg/Centre for Global Cooperation Research (KHK/GCR21) at the University of Duisburg-Essen, Germany. She holds a PhD in History from the University of Essex, UK, and was a Visiting Scholar at Columbia University’s Institute for the Study of Human Rights (ISHR, 2012), Marie-Curie Fellow at the Zukunftskolleg at the University of Konstanz (2013–2015), Visiting Scholar at the National University of Brasília (UNB, 2015), and a Senior Research Fellow at the Global South Studies Center (GSSC) at the University of Cologne (2015-2018). Her book manuscript on the global movement against child labour is currently under review. Further publications on child labour include ‘Origins of Child Rights Governance: The example of early Child Labour Legislation in the United States and Brazil’, Childhood: A Journal of Global Child Research 26(3) (2019): 289–303; ‘Florence Kelley’s Struggle against Child Labour: Revisiting the Obstacles’, Gender: Zeitschrift für Geschlecht, Kultur und Gesellschaft vol. 3 (2022): 135–49; and ‘Review: Betsy Wood, Upon the Altar of Work: Child Labor and the Rise of a ne American Sectionalism (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2020),' at: https://www.hsozkult.de/review/id/reb-94439?title=b-wood-upon-the-altar-of-work. Her research project “Child Labour Opponents in the Americas and their Campaigns in global perspective” (2020~2025) is funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG).

Currently, Nina Schneider is in the process of founding a Digital Archive on the Global Struggle Against Child Labour.