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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

2000, Vol. 3 No. 1 .

Helping Out: Childrens Labor in Ethnic Businesses
Miri Song

(Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1999)
247pp. Index. Bibl. Hb.: $59.50; ISBN 1-5663-9708-1. Pb.: $19.95; ISBN 1-5663-9709-X

A review of this very useful book starts best with a description of what the book is not. While the title makes reference to child labor, this is not a book chiefly devoted to the profoundly difficult ethical issues raised by working children. Moreover, despite the title reference to ethnic business, this is not a book on business theory or applications. Instead, Professor Song has authored a careful case study, from a sociological perspective, of children working in ethnic, family-operated businesses. The focus of the case study is relatively narrow: the book considers the operation of twenty-five Chinese take-away restaurant businesses in urban England. In addition, the case study focuses on nuclear families as opposed to extended family units. To produce the data for the book, Song conducted a series of in-depth interviews with the families operating these establishments. Based on these interviews, the book provides fascinating insight on the nature and extent of the labor provided by children in ethnic, family businesses. It also considers the ways in which children value and allocate their time and effort in support of the family business, as well as school and other components of their lives. The book endeavors as well to determine whether ethnicity is an important factor in assessing children's labor and the ways of and reasons for providing and utilizing it. Finally, the book reflects on the interesting nature of the contract between children and parents in family-run ethnic businesses and the reciprocal responsibilities created by these unwritten, but time-honored contracts. Song writes clearly and with feeling about the children who come to see great value in "helping out" as parties to a "family work contract."

The book will appeal to many audiences beyond the student of sociology. While it is not primarily an ethics text, the book contributes significantly to the conversation on child labor, providing a nuanced and interesting context for that debate. In addition, despite the fact that it is not a business practices book, the text provides a very interesting business case study. The book is splendidly bibliographed, contains extensive and very useful notes and is carefully indexed.

Professor Thomas D. Cavenagh
North Central College, Illinois

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