According to the International Labour Organization, around 260 million children are in employment around the world, with 170 million children, or 11% of the global population of children, engaged in child labour (otherwise defined as "work for which the child is either too young...[or] altogether considered unacceptable for children and is prohibited" (UN). And of these 170 million children, many child labourers are employed within the fashion supply chain, creating garments and textiles to satisfy the continuously growing demand of consumers in North America and Europe.
With the advent of fast fashion, many fashion retailers have become pressured to start producing the latest trends and styles at a faster rate, and for less. This means that garment production and textile sourcing is often done in countries where cheap labour is freely available. And when it comes to cheap and low-skilled labour that is generally required in the supply chain of a fast fashion garment, child labourers are often preferred for their obedience, small fingers, and lack of voice.
"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.” — Sophie Ovaa (global campaign coordinator of Stop Child Labour)
Furthermore, the fashion supply chain is immensely complex, thus making it difficult for fashion companies to control and supervise every stage of production. This means that even when brands know who their first supplier is and have strict codes of conduct in place for them, they may not know where the textiles come from or where their suppliers' work is being sub-contracted to.
With that being said, there are many things companies and consumers can do to help get rid of supply chains of child labour. By visiting manufacturers and supervising them carefully, fashion brands can make sure that their codes of conduct are carefully regarded. Such is the case with the New York-based sustainable fashion brand, Study-NY, where twice a year, Study-NY's management team will visit their manufacturers to verify that they adhere to their company's manufacturing inspection guidelines, which are in line with the Worldwide Responsible Apparel Production guidelines. And although most clothing companies do not own their own factories, it is important that these brands make garment workers aware of their rights. By working with their factories, fashion brands can help create a safer work environment for their employees.
And as consumers, the easiest way to help out is by doing your research. The Fair Wear Foundation has a list of over 120 fashion brands that have signed up to its code of labour practices, and are therefore child labour-free. By supporting these brands, you are actively supporting an industry that treats its employees fairly.
And, as always, by joining the Slow Fashion Movement, raising awareness, and promoting sustainable choices in your life, you're already helping to create a positive impact on the world. To learn more about our #WearTheChange initiative (which overlaps greatly with the Slow Fashion movement), head over here. Otherwise, thanks for reading, and don't forget to share!
*Read the original article "Child labour in the fashion supply chain: Where, why and what can be done" here.
by Alyssa Lau
- June 29, 2015