The Industrial Revolution began in Britain in the 18th century and had several different causes. One of the primary causes of the Industrial Revolution was the emergence of laissez-faire capitalism as an economic system. Laissez-faire capitalism is a highly individualistic ideology in which the government plays as little a role as possible in the economic decisions of a country. Historians often refer to the ideology of the Industrial Revolution as classical liberalism since it included the principles of laissez-faire capitalism while also still allowing basic individual rights. This political and economic climate created a situation in which wealthy factory and mine owners were able to exploit working-class people. As a result, this led to horrible working conditions for the people of the Industrial Revolution. For example, child labor was a common feature of the Industrial Revolution with children as young as four working in dirty and dangerous conditions without protection from the government. As time passed, the government was pressured to place limits on this exploitation.
The first major legislation created to place limits on child labor were a series of Factory Acts passed by the British parliament throughout the 1800s. These acts limited the number of hours that children could work and placed regulations on workplaces in terms of safety and cleanliness. For example, by 1819, the Factory Acts limited the workday for British children at 12 hours. By 1833, child labor was further regulated when it became illegal for children under 9 years old to work, and children over 13 were not allowed to work more than 9 hours a day.
The earliest of these acts was the Factory Act of 1802. The act included the following basic principles:
There were several more Factory Acts that occurred throughout the rest of the 1800s, but they all generally focused on reducing the working hours of children and improving the conditions of industrial workers. For example, the Factory Act of 1833 included the following provisions: