Is there a scientific justification for the current use of child labour and working hours in social LCA?
Paper in proceedings, 2014
In the social life cycle assessment (SLCA) literature, child labour and working hours are frequently suggested and used as indicators for assessment of social impacts. This use is mainly motivated by compliance with political documents. However, indicators should also have a scientific foundation. We therefore review the scientific literature in order to investigate whether the contemporary use of child labour and working hours is scientifically justified. We found that although working hours is used somewhat differently in different SLCA studies, most SLCA studies suggest that fewer working hours are socially beneficial. Yet the non-SLCA scientific literature rather suggests a delicate balance between working too much, and being underemployed. The risk of unemployment is also stressed, not only for society as a whole but also for individual workers. Although excessive (and hard) working may be more common in so-called developing countries, and therefore more severe, adverse social impacts from working too little with subsequent loss of income is typically also more severe in those countries. For child labour, the SLCA literature regards it as socially adverse in unison. However, the non-SLCA scientific literature gives a broader view. Although many cases of harmful child labour have been reported, it is also clear that some forms of child labour may be less harmful, perhaps even socially beneficial. Such beneficial child labour could correspond to a part-time job, working during holidays, or helping parents at their farm. In general, the non-SLCA literature thus does not provide complete scientific justification for the contemporary use of working hours and child labour in the SLCA literature.