I am wary about writing about too many negative things in my blog posts in case it puts people off reading any more. However as the fashion industry is rife with horrors this is difficult to avoid and such issues need to exposed and discussed before anything will change. So while this will be hard to read (and hard to write) I believe it is necessary, I hope you can bear with me.
A Global Problem
Being a mother of a young child myself I find the exploitation of child labour within my industry particularly shocking and sadly it is still very prevalent even today. Child labour is defined by the UN as “work for which the child is either too young – work done below the required minimum age – or work which, because of its detrimental nature or conditions, is altogether considered unacceptable for children and is prohibited”. Global estimates are that 168 million children aged 5-17 are engaged in child labour across all types of industries. These numbers are the highest in Asia and the Pacific and are stated to be nearly 78 million or 9.3% of the child population according to the International Labour Organisation.
Many of these children work in garment manufacture. Most highly sequined and embellished garments that often people will assume are done by machine are actually finished by children as their little fingers are more deft. This kind of time consuming and precise work is often contracted out by the factories who received the orders and completed in the families homes, out of sight. Children work in all parts of the fashion supply chain including in the fields picking cotton, which is particularly hazardous due to the pesticides and cotton dust which causes lung disease.
These vulnerable kids are often exposed to many hazards including toxic chemicals used in the various processes such as dying, without any protective safety gear. Industrial machinery operated by untrained children often leads to terrible accidents leaving them unable to work and forced to beg on the streets. Physical, emotional and sexual abuse is also sadly very common and used to manipulate or discipline. Children are often chosen as workers as they are more compliant and as they are afraid to question the authority of their bosses.
Child workers miss out on the benefit of an education as the need to provide extra income for their family is far greater. This however leads to less opportunities for them as they get older creating a poverty trap that feeds into another generation. Many children are also forced to work to pay off family debts and become bonded to employers. This means they work for no pay and often have to pay their employers for food and accommodation becoming virtual slaves.
Choose Slow Fashion
Fast fashion demands cheap labour and quick turnarounds which creates such systemic exploitation of all workers, children in particular. To combat this we all need to slow down our consumption and be more aware of what we buy. Purchasing from ethical brands that do not use child labour can make a big difference but also demanding more transparency from others about their suppliers and practices. The Fair Wear Foundation has a list of over 120 companies that have signed up to it’s code of practices which does not allow child labour and other certifications like Fairtrade and GOTS help consumers to know they are buying an ethical product.
If this subject interests you then why not read my posts on Who Made My Jeans Pt 1 and Pt 2.