Child Labor in the Fashion Industry

Child labor in the fashion industry is prevalent throughout the garment-making process. Children are often used to pollinate cotton plants, harvest the cotton, spin yarn, cut fabric, dye cloth, sew on buttons, embroider, fold and pack.

Children are often lured into this work under false pretense. For example, parents may be promised that their children will receive an education, three meals a day and a good wage. Since most parents want these things for their children, they agree to send their child or children to work in this industry. In reality, however, the working conditions are dangerous and the pay is incredibly low.

There are several reasons why child labor in the fashion industry is so prevalent:


Mechanics

A child’s fingers are much more suited for specific tasks. For example, in cotton fields, a child’s hands don’t damage the crop. Their small, nimble hands can also be useful in factories. There have been reports where factory management laced the girls’ food with hormones to keep them from hitting puberty since they thought puberty slowed down their efficiency.

Speed

You may have heard the phrase “race to the bottom.” The fashion industry aims to be fast and very cheap in their production. Children require less pay, so it is advantageous for companies to hire them. When companies are expected to put out new lines quickly, the industry moves quickly. That is why child labor in fast fashion is attractive to these companies.

Silence

Children have no voice. They aren’t going to form a union or rebel as a unit for better working conditions. For the most part, children in the labor industries do what they are told so they don’t get punished. Children are compliant and that is what this industry demands. Even when children are forced to work long days, often restricted from visitors, forced to sleep in tiny rooms with many others and restricted from leaving, they remain silent.

Magnitude

The fashion industry is massive, so conditions can easily slip under the radar. Frequently, brands have strict guidelines against child labor, but much of the work is done by sub-contractors with no oversight. Those sub-contractors may use child labor, but they don’t advertise that information to the brands. So, a major brand might have stringent policies yet unknowingly buy thread or yarn that children made.

Faulty inspections

Factories do everything in their power to hide their illegal practices. Children often have no proof of their age or have falsified records regarding their age. When audits are performed, officials either look the other way or are given incorrect information. Sometimes children are hidden from the inspectors.

Bithi is a teenager living in Bangladesh.1 She began working in a garment factory when she was just 12, sewing pockets for designer blue jeans. She is required to sew 60 pockets per hour, or 480 pockets every 8 hours. For this challenging task, she earns the equivalent of $1.00 per day.

How did Bithi end up here? Her father is sick and her family is living in poverty. With no money for rice and eight mouths to feed, her parents sent their two oldest daughters to work in the factory. Bithi used to dream of being a doctor. Now that dream is gone.

Child labor in the fashion industry is often found in these countries: Egypt, Uzbekistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, India, Thailand and China, among others.2 According to a New Lanark article, “Without the child workers, the landowners wouldn’t manage to harvest all of their crops.”3 In some countries, including Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and China, child labor in cotton fields is actually sanctioned by the government.4

GFA World is on the front lines of providing positive alternatives to child labor in the garment factories.

Through a child sponsorship model, children in the program are provided with basic necessities such as nutritious meals, clean water, educational support, medical care, educational supplies and more. This relieves the financial pressure from families who are struggling to simply feed their children. When children are kept in school and out of the workforce, they are on their way to fulfilling their hopes and dreams.

As they learn to read, write and perform basic math skills, they are equipped and qualified for higher-paying jobs as adults. Education is a key to breaking through the cycle of poverty!

Will you become a child sponsor? You can make the impossible possible! For just $35 a month, you can help a child, their family and their community break the cycle of poverty. Through your sponsorship, they will feel loved and valued. You can provide a child in need with hope and opportunities to experience the love of God firsthand! 

1 Nonkes, Mark. “A look at child labor inside a garment factory in Bangladesh.” World Vision. https://www.worldvision.org/child-protection-news-stories/child-labor-garment-factory-bangladesh. June 10, 2015.
2 “Fact Sheet: Child labour in the textile & garment industry.” The Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations. https://www.somo.nl/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/Fact-Sheet-child-labour-Focus-on-the-role-of-buying-companies.pdf. March 2014.
3 “Children & Cotton.” New Lanark Learning Zone. http://www.newlanark.org/learningzone/childlabourtoday.php. February 2019.
4 “Forced and Child Labor in the Cotton Industry.” World Vision Australia. https://campaign.worldvision.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/Forced-and-child-labour-in-the-cotton-industry-fact-sheet.pdf. February 2018.
* Cover photo by Adam Cohn, Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)