Around 170 million children around the world are engaged in child labor, defined by the UN as work for which the child is too young or work that is unacceptable for children. Most countries have laws against child labor, but it is still common in some of the poorest parts of the world.
The situation is improving, but still 11% of the world’s children are in situations that deprive them of their right to go to school without interference from work. Many of these child laborers work within the fashion supply chain.
Why does it exist?
Fast fashion has pushed companies to find ever-cheaper sources of labor.
The global campaign coordinator of Stop Child Labour says that many girls are willing to work for very low prices and are easily brought into these industries with false promises of earning decent wages.
Recruiters in southern India convince parents in poor rural areas to send their daughters to spinning mills with promises of a well-paid job, comfortable housing, three nutritious meals a day and opportunities for training and schooling, as well as a payment at the end of three years. In reality, these girls are working under appalling conditions that amount to modern day slavery.
Children are seen as obedient workers who are easy to manage.
Where is it happening?
Children work at all stages of the supply chain in the fashion industry: from the production of cotton seeds in Benin, harvesting in Uzbekistan, yarn spinning in India, right through to the different phases of putting garments together in factories across Bangladesh.
What are the challenges?
Even when brands have strict guidelines in place for suppliers, work often gets sub-contracted to other factories that the buyer may not even know about.
Where there is extreme poverty, there are children willing to work cheaply who are easily tricked into dangerous or badly paid work.
What can businesses do?
The Fair Wear Foundation has a list of 120 brands that have adopted its code of labor practices, which do not allow child labor. Accredited brands must ensure that all of the suppliers in the production stage meet these standards.
It is important to make workers aware of their rights so they know how to file a complaint.
Source: Child labor in the fashion supply chain
Copyright The Guardian, sponsored by UNICEF