Child Labour in the Garment Industry

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Despite huge public awareness of where and how our “throw-away” fashion is made it seems conditions have still not improved greatly in developing countries.  This is of particular concern when you look into the use of child labour.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of International Labor Affairs “Around 168 million children are still working worldwide and of those, 85 million in hazardous conditions.  Unfortunately, the textile and garment industry is one of the sectors that keeps resorting to employing children.”

A new report by the International Labour Organisation (ILO), ‘Marking Progress against Child Labour’, says that the global number of child labourers has declined by one third since 2000, from 246 million to 168 million.  But even the latest improved rate of decline is not enough to achieve the goal of eliminating the worst forms of child labour by 2016.

It is not just in factories that children are forced to work.  M.V. Foundation in Andhra Pradesh found nearly 400,000 children, mostly girls aged between 7 and 14 years working for 14-16 hours a day in cotton seed production across the country.

According to the Confederation of Indian Industries, the competitive edge in industries is partly provided by child labourers as “…they are paid less than adults and do not demand social security benefits and are, therefore, able to produce goods at a lower cost.”

It is a sad fact that children have to work to earn enough money to support themselves and their families.

In the end it all comes down to finances.  The consumers want low prices and the retailers need to make a profit so the work is outsourced to the lowest bidder.  Unfortunately controls are not in place in developing countries to ensure that the contracted firms do not sub-contract to illegal sweatshops and it is these sweatshops where the worst tragedies occur.  According to Rebhu and Agrawal “India’s competitive position in the world market is now party based on the fact that it can provide both domestic and foreign investors with the cheapest, most flexible and docile workforce which is mainly working in the informal sector and ‘of whom the majority consists of children and women, who are self-employed, casual, contract, temporary, seasonal or migrant workers.’  Industries and workshops, which operate in the informal sector in India, do not come within the purview of labour legislation.” (Ribhu and Agrawal, 2009, p13).

So why do consumers continue to buy fashion when they know a child has probably spent 12-14 hours 6-7 days a week working in unsafe and often inhumane conditions to produce it?  Why do people buy clothes for their children that are quite probably made by children of the same age?

Walking through the budget high street stores such as Primark you see people holding up garments and saying “It’s only four quid”.  It seems that at no time during that short sentence do they wonder “How can they make it that cheaply?” or “Has this come from an ethical source?”.

It appears that throw away fashion makes people throw away their conscience.

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Bibliography, Confederation of Indian Industry, A Seminar On Economic Implications of Abolition of Child Labour in India (1998)

http://www.ilo, International Labour Organisation, Department of Labour’s Bureau of International Labour Affairs, Mamidipudi Venkatarangaiya Foundation

Ribhu, P. and Agrawal, S., (2009) Brief Guide to Garment Manufacturing and Child Labour in Garment Sector in India


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