WE’s links to child labour reverse social progress

Image by: Amelia Rankine

This story has been updated with the WE organization’s response to Canadaland’s claims.

An organization that built its name on the back of abolishing child labour undoes its good work when it endorses companies employing children. 

WE, an international organization started by Canadians Craig and Marc Kielburger, has made its reputation crusading to end child labour in developing countries. However, a recent Canadaland investigation revealed WE is connected to at least two corporations known to use child labour in their supply chain. The organization’s response to the investigation’s claims can be found here

These partners are well-known. WE promotes Hershey, and Unilever products—which use cocoa or palm oil produced through child workers.  

 In 2017, WE, made $47 million from their corporate partnerships. 

WE justified their partnerships by arguing “no company is perfect.” But the organization has made its brand and profit off their quest to end child labour—if the criteria for perfection involves disavowing children’s labour, WE should strive for it.

Partnerships send a message to consumers. While acknowledging that businesses operate through corporate partnerships, WE is a charitable organization with a mission contrasting that of its partners. 

The organization refuses to accept culpability for its actions, saying their commitment to ending child labour is “beyond reproach.” None of WE’s past good deeds compensate for their hypocritical links to child labour. As champions of a progressive cause, the organization must be more accountable. 

If WE continues to support companies actively using child labour, that narrative will void the positive change they’ve made. They should set the standard for supporting the social issues that make up the essence of their organization. 

To truly act beyond reproach, WE needs to clearly disavow child labour in its partners. 

It needs to emphasize the difference between its philanthropic and for-profit arms. Consumers should be aware their spent money isn’t necessarily going to charity. WE must thoroughly vet current and future product sources by launching investigations into their supply chain. 

It’s also incumbent on WE’s supporters to learn from this lapse. While the organization started with pure intentions, their focus on ethics faded with their growth. 

It’s essential for people to stay critical and hold the organizations they support to a high standard. If they fail that standard, it’s critical we support our causes through other means. 

If an organization promising to abolish child labour refuses to cut that labour out of their own practices, it’s time to move on. 

Journal Editorial Board


December 1, 2023

The original headline of this story was a mischaracterization of the WE organization’s relationship to child labour. It has been updated to better reflect the content of the article. 

The Journal regrets the error


charity, child labour, Me to We

All final editorial decisions are made by the Editor(s)-in-Chief and/or the Managing Editor. Authors should not be contacted, targeted, or harassed under any circumstances. If you have any grievances with this article, please direct your comments to journal_editors@ams.queensu.ca.

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