It’s 8 AM on a Monday morning, and you are running late. You throw on one of your favourite cotton shirts that is covered in intricate embroidery, coax your 11 year old into the car, and hit the road, en route to drop her off at school. Your daughter, even though she may not believe it as she rubs the sleep from her eyes, is extremely lucky; across the world, more than 168 million children (1) are sitting in factories instead of school, working arduous days and prematurely participating in the global economy, perhaps even completing the intricate embroidery on that shirt you love so much.
Child labour is not a new concept: it has been part of the social and economic development of many countries around the world throughout history. Today, an estimated 73 million of the 168 million child laborers globally are doing hazardous work, with 19 million of them under 12 years old (2). The fashion and lifestyle sectors, in particular, are some of the worst offenders when it comes to employing underage workers.
There is no silver bullet for eradicating child labour, an issue that is extremely complex and embedded in the modern economy.
However, supply chain transparency is an important first step. If designers and apparel brands demand transparency from their suppliers and commit to only work with production units that are free of child labour, it will force suppliers to eradicate child labour in order to stay competitive. Designers can also be agents of change by providing transparent reports to consumers, so that they can make educated decisions around their purchasing habits.
Consumers can support the effort to remove child labour from supply chains by educating themselves about the companies they are giving business to and choosing to purchase only ethically made goods. In a similar fashion to the way designers place pressure on suppliers to eradicate child labour in order to stay competitive, consumers can place pressure on retail brands.
2021 is the International Year for the Elimination of Child Labour, as declared by the UN General Assembly to address this international humanitarian crisis. However, whatever your position in the supply chain, you can take action now through educating yourself, and choosing to support companies and suppliers that provide transparent reporting and stand against child labour. Through the efforts of educated individuals and organizations, we can work to end child labour globally, and protect childhood for education.
The British Asian Trust runs its Anti-trafficking Programme to protect victims of human trafficking from forced labour and sexual exploitation by working with businesses to lower the demand for child labour and encourage them to choose non-exploitative labour. We do so in partnership with local organisations such as Industree and with funding from the John Lewis Foundation.
Claire Simpson - Industree Foundation