Child labour in the fashion industry

Posted by Niyas Yusuf

ILO (International Labour Organisation) estimates that 170 million children(11% of the global population of children) are engaged in child labour around the globe even though child labour is forbidden by law in most of the countries. 

Imagine that the clothes our children wear was made by unprivileged children of the same age who was forced into child labour. While we purchase such clothes produced by children, unknowingly we are supporting and promoting child labour which is one of the most dangerous threat the world is facing today. Though children are forced to work due to several social conditions in under developed and developing countries, there are several groups and organizations battling this along with the government. 

Fast fashion has engendered a race to the bottom, pushing companies to find ever-cheaper sources of labour. That cheap labour is freely available in many of the countries where textile and garment production takes place.

Child labour is a particular issue for fashion because much of the supply chain requires low-skilled labour and some tasks are even better suited to children than adults. In cotton picking, employers prefer to hire children for their small fingers, which do not damage the crop.

Children are seen as obedient workers who slip under the radar, making them easy to manage. Ovaa says: “There is no supervision or social control mechanisms, no unions that can help them to bargain for better working conditions. These are very low-skilled workers without a voice, so they are easy targets.”

ugely complex and it is hard for companies to control every stage of production. That makes it possible to employ children without big brands and consumers ever finding out.

In the cotton industry, children are employed to transfer pollen from one plant to another. They are subjected to long working hours, exposure to pesticides and they are often paid below the minimum wage. In developing countries where cotton is one of the main crops, children are enlisted to help harvest the delicate crop and they work long hours sowing cotton in the spring, followed by weeding through the summer months.

What can businesses do to battle child labour?

The Fair Wear Foundation has listed several brands that have signed up to its code of labour practices, which do not allow for the use of child labour. Accredited brands must ensure with regular audits that all of the suppliers in the cut-make-trim stage of production meet these standards, meaning it goes beyond most companies’ in-house policies.

Other accreditation schemes exist, such as the Fairtrade label Organisation, the Global Organic Textile Standard and the Ethical Trading Initiative, but all of them struggle with the lack of transparency in the textile and garment supply chain. Organic kids wear brands like Hugabug ensures fair trade compliance in the apparel production and strictly follow the fair trade label battling child labour and promoting ethical farming and supply chain. Such businesses is also found funding and supporting several organizations like CRY for protecting the rights of children.

If more such ethical businesses are established, the issue of child labour could be fought upto a great extent and the customers play a major role as they have to choose only such brands that does not use child labour in its supply chain but support and contribute to protect the rights of children.

It is etimated that out of 170 million atleast 6 million are forced into child labour by major brands and there are practical steps that companies can take to rid their supply chains of child labour. “Brands can start off by creating a supply register. Fashion brands normally have 200 or more suppliers. You should start by knowing who your manufacturers are and visiting them.” On these visits, she says brand representatives must watch out for signs the factory is sub-contracting; they should be concerned, if the factory does not have enough workers for the amount of t-shirts it produces.

Companies can also address their purchasing practices, which can make working conditions worse. Schuurman says: “To meet tight deadlines or unanticipated orders, factories may sub-contract without informing the buying companies. Sometimes that is enforced by the brand; it puts too much pressure on the factory.” Companies can adjust their purchasing practices to lighten the load and ensure the factories they have inspected fulfil their orders, she says.

The businesses around the globe would be forced to stop child labour if the customers strictly choose brands that does not use child labour and follow fair trade policies and regulations.

Remember that children can turn the world upside down and they are the promises of tomorrow, we have to ensure to protect their rights and educate the children for a better and safer tomorrow.