Woman sewing

How common is child labour in the fashion world?

There is a lot of work that goes into making a garment, even if it’s just a simple t-shirt — the elements of the material need to be sourced, the components need to become workable material, the idea of the garment needs to be compiled, and the article of clothing needs to be made into a sellable product. Every item of clothing we wear goes through many hands before being passed on to consumers, but often we don’t think about the way these garments come about, as long as we have a complete, flawless product in hand, and it comes at a price that is easy on our wallets. However, as there are so many people to pay in the process of manufacturing and many shady garment factories are keen to make as much profit as possible, there are many aspects of the supply chain that are compromised in safety and legality by using hoards of children as labourers.

How many are involved and where is it happening?

While we don’t see it first hand, as brands obviously do not proudly stamp their clothes with ‘made with child labour’ on their tags, there are a staggering amount of children who are trapped in the world of fashion labour. According to the International Labour Office, it is estimated that there are a staggering 170 million children between the ages of 5 and 17 who are enlisted in child labour, with the majority working in textile or garment factories. Between countries such as Bangladesh, China, Egypt, India, Pakistan, Thailand, Uzbekistan, and many others, “children work at all stages of the supply chain in the fashion industry”. If we take a look at what is in our closets, it is more than likely that there is at least one article of clothing that is made in one of these countries, and very likely that it came about from at least one element of child labour.

Why is child labour occurring?

In many of the countries where child labour occurs, the socio-economic background is massively different than what we would consider to be ‘normal’ in more Western countries. In many instances, poverty is widely spread, and the only way that families can be supported is if the children also work. With other cases, the cultural traditions are much different than our own, and children are brought up to start work at a younger age. However, despite these differences, some of the main reasons that children are employed is due to inadequate laws surrounding the rights of a child and shady corporations looking to make more product, while keeping their costs low.

What is being done to help end child labour?

Many human rights groups such as World Vision, Stop Child Labour, Unicef, and a multitude of others are actively trying to end child labour. By informing the world of what is happening in countries abroad, and behind closed doors, each charitable group aspires to open the eyes of others so that we can be more conscious of the companies we choose to support, and show us that consuming blindly is not the correct choice of consumerism. These groups challenge governments to clarify and address the loopholes in local laws that allow the continuation of child labour, educate local families about their options, and help the hopeless that are entrapped in the worst of it. With implementing as much good as they can, many hope to end child labour, and ultimately help to persuade major companies to choose more ethical ways of producing products.

How can I ensure that I don’t contribute to child labour in the fashion industry?

Child labour is used en masse when it comes to producing textiles, sadly. At this rate, it is something that we all have likely, and unknowingly, contributed to at one point or another, but if you’re informed, you don’t need to continue to support it. By simply researching a brand before you purchase a new item of clothing, you should be able to see if they are involved in any sketchy business. While many companies will not say that they use child labour, there are many that will prove to you that they do not. Luckily, there are organisations such as the Fair Wear Foundation which has painstakingly compiled lists of brands and companies that are proven to produce ethically, which can help us when we wish to purchase something new.

Sadly, around 11% of the worlds’ children are child labourers, and the majority of them are working in the production of clothing. Whether due to their socioeconomic background or because of governmental loopholes in the laws, the amount of children that are being deprived from their childhood and a proper education is heartbreaking. While there are many foundations that have tried their hardest to end child labour, it starts on a smaller scale, right in your own hands when you’re looking to purchase a new item of clothing. Even though it may be only one product you’re wishing to purchase, buying it from a company that chooses to actively take into account human rights, fairness, and equality will make the difference in reducing the supply and demand of businesses who chose to exploit children for their own financial gain.

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