During the industrial revolution many factories and mines did everything they could to exploit women and children by having them work in less than desirable conditions. Women and child labor was used for many years in many different industrial positions that would normally only be worked by men. The reason for this use was due to the fact of the companies could find more women and children that they could basically force into working the jobs that no one else would want to work, for little if not no money at all.
Another reason was because of the abundance of women and children available to be used to fill the positions. Women and children were sometimes sold into “slavery” if you will, and forced to live in the factories or very close to them, possibly even in compounds that surrounded the factories and mines, and were not allowed to leave the confines of their work areas until their time was worked off.
Many of these people were sold by their parents at an early age, even at 6 years of age these kids were being sold off for couple of dollars for a six year contract basically… so at the age of 6 these kids were basically being sold into slavery by their parents for a few dollars, and then by the time that they completed the 6 years or more that they were enslaved for they were basically released, but as many of them only knew the life of working in the mils and mines many of them remained.
Some of the reason parents sent their children to work in the substandard condition without what seemed like any care, was because they themselves had worked in the same conditions when they were younger, and expected their children to do the same. Some of these parents did not even bother to find work while their children were working in these harsh environments, they just lived off of the money their kids made for working many 12+hr shifts, basically leaving the kids to have nothing out of all of the hard work that they did each day, except for maybe a meal or two.. if they were even given that chance.
The term “child labor” generally refers to children who work to produce a good or a service which can be sold for money in the marketplace regardless of whether or not they are paid for their work. During the times that these children were at work they would be constantly beaten severely for doing nothing more than slowing in their work, and not being able to produce the quantity or the quality that the “master” wanted and expected.
Although movements to abolish slavery started in the early 1800’s, in Great Britain, slavery remained quite active especially by the slavery of women and children for many more years to come and it wasn’t until 1833 that work to make the working conditions of these enslaved children and women better began.
Not only was it the savings in money for pay that they companies used women and children in the mils and mines, as it was that there were more women and children available that they could exploit then there were men at the time. Children will do anything they are told to do, and not usually fight it or ask any questions. They could have more children working in substandard conditions. These workers were forced to put in over 70 hrs in a week, even once machines and motors were used to create more of a mass production of the products.
These machines allowed more to be produced and with a better quality than when it was done before by hand, but these machines still required someone to operate them, and to maintain them. As well as to keep them loaded with the required supplies to produce the products, as well as having someone there to remove the finished product as quickly as possible, so that the operator could continue to produce more as quickly as they could.
It was not at all common for workers to work in excess of 19hrs a day with no extra pay, or any other benefits for working the added hours. The way I look at what they did back then, was factories looked at women and child labor to be the same as some farmers and such in the US do with Mexicans now days.
They figure they can have twice or more the amount of workers for half the price that they would have paid US citizens, and this allows them to get more work done for less money, allowing them to sell more make more profit in the end, and this also will allow them to stay ahead of their competition. I do not condone these actions, but they are going on, and I thought it best explained the reason industries did this back during the Industrial Revolution.
There were investigations that were conducted by a parliamentary investigation committee, on the child labor in both the mils as well as the mines. These investigations were started after Michael Sadler with a parliamentary commission, and the Ashley Commission; named after its leader, Anthony Ashley Cooper (Lord Ashley); brought proof to the House of Commons, and invited people from different backgrounds to come and see the conditions these children and women were forced to work in, at both the factories as well as the mines.
The Sadler commission interviewed 89 of the witnesses that had seen the harsh conditions, as well as many of the workers that were actually forced to work in the condition, and afterwards took these interviews along with all of the findings of the commissions to the House of Commons where Lord Ashley purposed a bill that would restrict children to working a max of 10hrs a day. The members voted against the bill 238 votes to 93.
But due to the information gathered by both the Sadler commission as well as the Ashley commission they did realize that the children needed some sort of protection set forth, and they sent an act of their own to the Parliament for approval which was the 1833 Factory ACT, which was approved by Parliament the 29th of August 1833.
Under the terms of the new act, it became illegal for children under nine to work in textile factories, whereas children aged between nine and thirteen could not be employed for more than eight hours a day. The main disappointment of the reformers was that children over thirteen were allowed to work for up to twelve hours a day. They also complained that with the employment of only four inspectors to monitor this legislation, factory owners would continue to employ very young children.
And this did continue for many years as there was a lack of supervision to verify that factory owners were in fact following the new laws. Although the factory owners did continue to employ younger workers, and overwork all of the children, way past the limit of 8-12hrs a day as set by the act, there was still a definite loss of workers and production time as they did have to cut workers, and cut the hours they were working so as to not be shut down or fined once they were caught.
Factories were not able to put out near the quantity that they were able to produce before the act, and they were not able to function around the clock as they had before, as part of the act limited the latest time of the night that a child could work, and the earliest in the morning they could come to work… thus limiting the operation hours of the factory so this dropped a good portion of production.
As far as factory owners not abiding by the laws that were set as far as the child labor goes, it is not known whether it was an increase in demand or an increase in supply, but the argument that child labor laws were not considered much of a deterrent to employers or families is fairly convincing. Many factory owners as well as the families of the children working in these facilities did not seem too much care about the fines that were imposed by those who were found to be in contempt of the law, as the fines were usually way under what the children brought in, and well under what the products the children were producing were making for the factory owners.
It is just as if you have a small town inside of a district, inside of a county… the county makes a law about something, and the city you live in only has one cop, and he doesn’t seem to really care for the new law… well you are willing to take a chance that that one cop will be the only one to catch you, and let you go… so you are willing to still do whatever it is that is against the law and willing to take the lick for that one time that you do get caught, as you got away with it many more times making it more worth the chance of punishment.
Well without the proper supervision and authorities to enforce the laws it could not be expected that the factory owners, as well as the families of the children were going to make any changes to a good thing they had going, for the chance of getting caught that one time, and having to pay what would be a small fee to them, considering all that they made while they were getting away with it.
There were many things that changed during the Industrial Revolution; one of those things was the child labor in industry. There was a huge issue with child labor in factories, mills, and even mines that many people during the time frame did not even know was going on, much less posing a problem. Once the issue was brought to light in front of the right people, and was pursued by people who were not willing to let down they were able to get the information in position in front of politicians that made the appropriate laws such as the Factory Act of 1802, 1833, 1844, 1847, 1850, 1867, 1874, 1891 and many other similar acts.
These acts put a huge damper on factory owners and caused their production numbers to fall, thus causing their profits to drop. This was a crushing blow to these owners that they did not want to accept and many of them continued to employ the children until newer acts, and more supervision was available to verify that they comply with the new laws as they came out.
Although at first these acts were not headed as they should have been, due to lack of proper authorities and personnel to verify that these laws were being followed, they were later followed up by increasing pressure from the politicians as well as the proper authorities. These acts were only the beginning as the time passed, more stronger acts were released all together banning the employment and use of children and women in these industrial positions, under such extremely harsh conditions.
1. Tuttle, Carolyn. “Child Labor during the British Industrial Revolution”, EH.Net Encyclopedia, edited by Robert Whaples. August 15, 2001 http://eh.net/encyclopedia/article/tuttle.labor.child.britain
2. Life in Great Britain During the Industrial Revolution, Wikipedia
Encyclopedia, last edited 16 December 2008
www.wikipedia.org/Life in Great Britain During the Industrial Revolution
3. Child Labour, Spartacus Educational, Author: John Simkin,
Many sections referenced from this material.