Child Labor During the Industrial Revolution


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This research is about explaining how the Industrial Revolution paved the way to improve workers’ labor conditions in the 1800s. The research question is, “How the Industrial Revolution Paved the Way for the Improvement of Working Conditions at the end of the XIX Century?” During this research, the focus will be mainly on Britain in the XIX; the primary source of the Factory Act of 1833 will be used and compare to the daily working conditions for people who worked in factories.

The Industrial Revolution is a period in human history in which humanity moved from the agrarian economy to the modern industrial economy. This event is known for all of its improvements in technology and the economy, but what not everyone knows is about the terrible consequences the Industrial Revolution produced for these advancements and transformations to occur. Before the Industrial Revolution era, people work on their own in the fields by practicing agriculture. They managed their own time, and they work by their terms and conditions. In other words, people had freedom and liberty among how work and labor. All of this changed when the Industrial Revolution began. When the Industrial Revolution started in the second half of the XVIII century, factories were emerging in the economy until it got to the point of its apogee in the 1800s in which factories became in the new industrial modern economy. At this point, there were hundreds of factories, and thousands of people work in them. Factories’ working spaces contained terrible, unhealthy, and dangerous working conditions at which workers labor for long periods. Throughout this modernization process, abuses were regulated by lots of things that occur. (Britannica, 2017)

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The Industrial Revolution did not improve working conditions directly,, it only created horrible conditions to work. The Industrial Revolution started in Britain as a consequence of the Agricultural Revolution. For this reason, factories also started in Britain, and they were new to everyone. Most of the factories’ workers were peasants from rural areas who came to towns and cities in search of work, but when they started working, they discovered that the working conditions were monstrous. Conditions at such factories were terrible, dangerous, and unhealthy, working spaces were dirty and overcrowded, and without leaving aside, employees, including children and women, were forced to labor for about 12-16 hours a day six times a week gaining pitbull low wages. At the same time mines, workers were lived in similar and even worse conditions. Mines were dirty, overcrowded, and they expel toxic gases, as well; there were frequent explosions. Besides, employees were also penalized for arriving late and for not working as expected. In fact, conditions were so hazardous that lots of people got to die during labor hours in factories in mines. Also, there were numerous accidents in which entire factories were fired, and hundreds of workers died. (Britannica, 2017)(Cambridge University Press, 1996)

The British people were so annoyed about the factories’ situations that they started rebelling and making boycotts, and soon it became more normal, and it happened more often. As a consequence, a group of protesters called Luddites emerge. Luddites went against the modern way of working, and they fight in the name of thousands of workers. Luddites caused lots of rebellions and destruction in factories. Worried about the situation Industrialists always responded by shooting at the protesters, resulting in murders and lots of innocent deaths. (Yale-New Teachers Institute, 1981)

The British government realized the labor situation and they created the most famous and vital labor act of the century, the Factory Act of 1833, in which they regulated the child labor and factory inspectorate was introduced. “. . . Be it enacted that no person under eighteen years of age shall be allowed to work in the night—that is to say, between the hours half-past eight o’clock in the evening and half-past five in the morning—in or about any cotton, woolen, worsted, hemp, flax, tow, linen, or silk mill or factory, wherein steam or water or any other mechanical power is or shall be used to propel or work the machinery. . . .” (Factory Act 1833, National Archives) By this primary source, it’s understandable that before the Factory Act of 1833, children were abused by making them work in dicey situations. However, thanks to this act, these scenarios started to change, and children were protected by the law, which is excellent. The action was a step forward to the improvement of labor conditions and Human Rights.

Even though the government launched laws for regulating child labor, it didn’t work as expected, and it continued. “My Lord, in the case of Taylor, Ibbotson & Co. I took the evidence from the mouths of the boys themselves. They stated to me that they commenced working on Friday morning, the 27th of May last, at six A.M., and that, except meal hours and one hour at midnight extra, they did not cease working till four o’clock on Saturday evening, having been two days and a night thus engaged. Believing the case scarcely possible, I asked every boy the same questions, and from each received the same answers. I then went into the house to look at the time book, and in the presence of one of the masters, referred to the cruelty of the case, and stated that I should certainly punish it with all the severity in my power. Mr. Rayner, the certificating surgeon of Bastile, was with me at the time.” (British Parliamentary Papers, 1836, National Archives) Sadly, the Factory Act of 1833 was not taken seriously, and child labor abused continued.

Later on, in 1844, the government created the Factory Act 1844, in which women and children could not work more than 12 hours a day. Years forward, in 1847, another act was created, the Factory Act 1847, also known as the Ten Hour Act, in which it states that women and children could not work for more than 10 hours a day. Subsequently, more factory regulating acts were created until 1878, was it join the previously mention Factory Acts and some others not mention, and created the 1878 Factory Act. This Factory Act prohibited children under ten years old could work. At the same time, it also banned that women could work more than 56 hours a week. (National Archives, 2007)

All of these problems and many more social issues led to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1946. In which article 23 talks about labor rights. Article 23 establishes that everyone has the right to work with favorable conditions. This declaration has been one of the most significant accomplishments in human history regarding human and labor rights. (United Nations, 2016)

In general, the topic of the improvement of working conditions and Human Rights relates to the ideology of liberalism. The relation since liberalism, the primary purpose is to be liberal from the old conservative ideas and give people equality, freedom, and liberty. At the same time, in liberalism, the government cares, protects, and puts in favorable conditions for peasants and workers. (Británica, 2019)

Nowadays, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) created in 2015 are a set of goals in which humanity most contributes to afront social and environmental problems. Labour rights can relate with SDG 8, specifically with target 8.5, which states that all women, men, and young children should have a decent job and with equal pay for its value.

In conclusion, before the Industrial Revolution, persons worked on their own in the fields. Throughout the process of the Industrial Revolution, lots of factories were created, and it didn’t create fair and reasonable working conditions. On the other hand, it only created terrible, unhealthy, hazardous, and dangerous working conditions. Fortunately, this paved the way for the creations of different Factory Acts, which in the end, improved the labor conditions of workers. The Declaration of Human Rights has been one of the most critical advancements regarding human and labor rights. Nowadays, workers are protected by Human Rights and by law, but at the same time, some factories do not respect their workers’ rights, and these cases are not reported nor published officially.  

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