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Currently 218 million children are in work— 73 million of those in hazardous conditions that "directly endangers their health, safety, and moral development." Crazy, right?


The speed and cheap price at which we demand clothes, creates a race to the bottom, where brands cut corners to find ever cheaper labour sources. That cheap labour is freely available in many of the countries where textile and garment production takes place, often coming in the form of children.

 

Children work at all stages of the supply chain in the fashion industry: from the production of cotton seed, spinning the cotton, dyeing fabrics, sewing garments, right through to their nimble fingers being sought after for quick embroidery and beading. They are subjected to long working hours, exposure to pesticides and they are often paid below the minimum wage.

 

Child labour is forbidden by law in most countries but continues to be rife in some of the poorest parts of the world. The situation is improving, slowly, ILO estimates suggest child labour declined by 30% between 2000 and 2012. But still 11% of the world’s children are working in situations that deprive them of their right to go to school without interference from work.

 

 Images taken from Getty

Child labour thrives where transparency and accountability is lacking.

Often brands know their first supplier and have codes of conduct with them, but when they go further down the chain it’s much hard to know where things are made. Tackling child labour is further complicated by the fact it is just a symptom of larger problems. Where there is extreme poverty, there will be children willing to work cheaply and susceptible to being tricked into dangerous or badly paid work.

 

Frequently, when we talk about issues such as child labour, it is a common thought that if we sourced locally this wouldn’t be a problem. However, made in the UK doesn’t mean better and Made in Bangladesh, isn’t necessarily indicative of lesser standards. There are very good factories in developing countries, just as there are very bad systems (sweatshops, low pay, and unsafe conditions) in countries we might consider above suspicion.

 

We need to encourage transparency, vigilance, and openness so that organisations working on the ground have the tools to check and act promptly if abuse and exploitation is detected.

There are many certification systems that exist, such as the Fairtrade, the Global Organic Textile Standard and the Ethical Trading Initiative, helping to further build relationships in the supply chain between brands, NGOs, trade unions and producer allowing groups to get better insights into the supply chain they operate in.

 

Images taken from Getty

Without transparency, there can be no accountability or measured change that can be created. That's why transparency, at every level, is crucial. And though we may never know just how much of the industry's clothing is made by children, here's what you can do about it:

 

  1. Support Unicef, International Labour Organisation, Child Labour Free
  2. Speak up and demand more transparency from fashion brands with campaigns like Fashion Revolution
  3. Shop brands transparent supply chains
  4. Search brands with certified and audited supply chains on apps like Good On You
  5. Raise awareness about this issue and create conversation by sharing the article or one of the links with a friend.

 

 

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